When word originally got back to me that a tribute had been arranged for Jay Dee (a.k.a J-Dilla) I was a little sceptical. I wasn't worried about the money getting to his mother or anything like that. I was worried about the prospect of having to sit through another poorly attended hip hop function surrounded by men. I really wanted to support but its cold in the Big Smoke in March people, and when Thor's own wind chill whips up your pant leg your likely to remember that blunts burn just as nicely at home. Also I'm admittedly not the hugest of Jay Dee fans which isn't to say I'm not a fan, it's just that I wasn't confident a night heavy on Dilla beats would play well.
Anyway I call up my boy Big Tweezie to see what his take would be. I let him know that I was on the fence as to whether or not anyone would show up to this function. Sure 4 or so people had called me within 48hrs of Dilla's death to let me know he had passed (2 more than called me when 'Pac died) but would this be a sign that Toronto's backpackers would manage to assemble en mass to celebrate his life and accomplishments? Tweezie offered, "You know Drama, I think people will show up. Toronto is full of fags and they'll want to attend cause if anything it'll make them feel like they made it out to the funeral."
Word? We'll see. I showed up at Fez Batik Night Club at around 11pm. First thing to grab my attention was the line. Yes the fact that there was a line up in and of itself was surprising but the fact that there were women in the line was downright astounding. I momentarily wondered if I was in the right place. I was, so I got in line. It was about a 20 minute wait which was wasn't so bad at all. For once it didn't seem like the bouncers were purposefully letting people in as slow as humanly possible. I even had a pleasant conversation with the bouncer who frisked me, and generally I'm a grazed testicle away from shutting the whole shit down. It was at this moment that a thought popped into my head. Things would not be going this smoothly at a Tupac tribute.
And I guess this is when I started to realize that maybe this night would have some surprises yet. I enter the spot and I'm immediately struck by the diversity of the crowd. A quick glance of the crowd showed heads who came into Hip-Hop with Run-DMC grooving with heads who came into Hip-Hop with Biggie. Another funny thing that generally separates Hip-Hop shows is the fact that their not necessarily that racially diverse. It's not necessarily that one race always dominates the crowd. Sometimes it's mostly black youth, sometimes it's mostly white youth, and at times it might be a Philippino crowd. This night it looked to me like Toronto as a whole was accurately represented.
Wait, what did that kid say? Dj P-Plus on the wheels? Word? Maybe this is better organized than I thought. Pizzle don't play. Mixing up nuff of Dilla's songs, along with some complimentary grooves from like minded artists. Crowd head nodding hard, everyone getting pulled along by the same energies. Fuck it, I'm in. Bartender rye and ginger. I knew I needed an angle for this article but what is it that brought everyone here? What do Dilla's fans receive from his music? Standing at the bar waiting for rye and ginger number 3 provided some answers.
The bar I was waiting at in the club is a very small bar. End to end it's shorter than a bathtub. I'm leaning on the bar and I weigh 230lbs and yet this bartender keeps taking other peoples orders like she can't see me. No lie 4, 5, 6 people who clearly arrive after me get served before me. This guy walks up beside me at some point and noting that he's behind me in line and that the bartender has passed me over several times says to me, "What's up with that?" I shrug. Two more times she passes over me the last time giving me the index finger to symbolize, "Give me a sec hun". The guy beside me looks at me and says, "No love." Now keep in mind if this was 1997 and/or this bar was filled with the man dem from Jane St. this couldn't have gone on. The bartender, she didn't realize that she was about 4 bars of Shook Ones Part 2 from EMS having to pick green Heineken glass out of her rass. But you know what? Dilla wasn't about that. Shook Ones Part 2. Never came on. So I never had to show her what it means to be "stuck on the realness". She came up to me apologized sincerely and put some extra rye in that ginger. I gave her a tip and off we went our separate ways.
And this might be the essence of a Dilla beat. The common thread linking the works of his career together is that that foundational human element to his art. The aspect that encompasses all aspects, if you will. Not just the tree hugging element or the B-boy element. Not just that thug factor or that militant aspect. The organic sound found so commonly in his music has the ability to appeal to every, and anyone. You know someone can love dancing and someone else can love guns but they both know what love is so why not appeal to that? The beats aren't superficial in nature and that allows them to get to your core. Dilla had that down. You just knew nothing was going to go wrong tonight, and there's a powerful truth in music. When everyone comes to the party for the same thing for the same connection brilliant things can happen. No one was sitting around waiting for an R&B song. No one was in the back waiting for soca. Everyone came to be themselves all night and Dilla was more than happy to provide the soundtrack to let you do just that.