In honor of February being Dilla Month, I’ve got my own Dilla related story to contribute:
Let’s take a little trip back in time to my 16 year old self. It’s the summer of 2000, right around the height of my backpacker phase. No, not the Patagonia rocking, Clif Bar stashing, trailblazing type. What I’m talking about was the underground hip-hop crusader variety: boom bap blasting, Rawkus Records catalog hoarding, crab scratching, vinyl junkie that shunned mainstream hip-hop as much as it did a wack punchline.
That summer I vividly recall my full immersion in hip-hop culture, which consisted of DJ sessions for hours on end, getting my fingers dusty through regular record digging excursions, scouring LimeWire for the latest underground tracks, and as much as I’d hate to admit, participating in online rap battle forums on some E-Rabbit tip. Through such immersion I was exposed to the genius of J Dilla. From his work with Tribe, The Ummah and the Soulquarians, Dilla was the underground hip-hop community’s Midas, turning every project he touched into aural gold and creating a living legend status for himself and earning canonized degree not only within rap’s elite, but throughout the music world as a whole. Having extended his talents on Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate” earlier that year, an album that solidified Com as my favorite emcee, I was convinced that this was peak Dilla.
So of course, when I heard that Slum Village – a group that consisted of Dilla, Baatin, and T-3 – was coming through to a nearby record shop (peace Stacks Records!) for an in-store to promote their latest album, “Fantastic, Vol. 2,” the decision I had to make wasn’t whether I was going or not, but instead, how early I wanted to get there.
Fast forward to the day of the in-store and I’m the early bird set to carpe TF outta this diem, as I was posted outside the shop a few hours early with handicam and excitement on deck. The performance itself was everything that this backpacker had expected and more, with Slum running through multiple tracks off the album. As I type this, it’s literal chills as I look back at hearing so many gems off “Fantastic, Vol. 2” that day and thinking about how now its considered a legendary and culturally-shifting hip-hop album.
Besides the obvious gems Slum Village was dropping with each cut they performed, another form of indelible rests in my memory surprisingly not due to any musical aspect of their set at all.
So picture me, front row, just vibing out to everything, with aforementioned handicam in hand documenting it all – even the moment when Baatin left me hanging. This is a trauma that’s hit us all, where one instance of miscommunication from either the deliverer or receiver of dap can lead to soul-searing embarassment to the party expecting props. See Baatin was dapping up everybody up front, so naturally I stuck my hand out looking for mine, too. Well just as I punched my fist through airspace, he seemingly decided, ‘Nah,’ and stepped back to continue with his verse. My trusty cam captured this moment for forever to remember, just in case I ever get forgetful about this day.
After Slum Village’s set, they did a meet and greet, signing everybody’s copy of “Fantastic, Vol. 2.” Going down the line as each member signed my vinyl copy, I mentioned to Baatin about him leaving me hanging. He laughed, replied with a simple, ‘My bad,’ dapped me up and kept it moving. Next in line was Dilla. He apparently heard the exchange between Baatin and I and told me, as he signed my copy, “Thanks for coming out and supporting, man. Don’t trip, this work we got here on this, it’ll never leave you hanging.”
Sadly, due to crucial circumstances, I’ve since had to sell that record. But no matter, J Dilla changed my life that day. His music and contributions are forever – never once leaving me hanging.