Words By Jillian “Elle Maxwell” Napper, Photos By Diamond Dixon
I can still hear the echoing chant of “THIS ONE IS FOR DILLA!” by singer Yahzarah. A night filled with call and response, something deep rooted in hip-hop culture, showed just how prevalent a godsend such as James Dewitt Yancey was and still is in the hip hop community. Although this was my first year attending the annual DC Loves Dilla show, it felt like I could have been there from opening night. Curated by Grap Luva, the 8th annual DC Loves Dilla affair was anything but mundane. Witnessing my first live tribute show for this legend that some may refer to as Jay Dee, I have to say that he was certainly a blessing to music itself. Had it not been for his heavy influence I might not have grown a deep love for hip hop. Dilla’s impact trickled down through generations and continues to inspire various walks of life.
As I arrived to the historical Howard Theater I could see a mass of anxious souls crowding the lobby. Patrons of the highly anticipated event were diverse not only in attire but ethnic backgrounds as well. T-shirts donning the words “DC [heart] Dilla” were everywhere. The love for this man was definitely in the air. Running into familiar faces while finding my way to the main stage made it feel as though I could have known J Dilla through a friend of a friend. It felt like one big happy family and this was the annual reunion.
It wasn’t long before the house music lowered and the harmonious chatter of the audience filled the room. Grap Luva goes on to introduce the first performer, Oddisee, and the show begins. (Oddisee) “AWW DC!” (Audience) “AWW J DILLA!” Scanning the auditorium for more familiar faces I glance to stage left and see singer and DC native Alison Carney. Concert goers would later be serenaded by this woman’s amazing vocals. After an energetic performance by Oddisee the house band proceeds to play, forcing the crowd to become one with the music. Mobile devices light up the room like lightening bugs on a very, very humid DC summer night.
The show continued and performers Wes Felton, Uptown XO, Substantial, and Authentik kept up the momentum. Embracing not only the heartbeat of each performer but of J Dilla himself, I stopped for a moment and thought to myself, “I love this sh*t!” Surrounded by the sound of true hip-hop and avid fans of the genre I found myself engulfed in a utopia. Female phenoms Mushinah and Wayna commanded everyone’s ears and a rendition of Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know” was the cherry on top.
The news of Black Thought of The Roots not being able to attend this year’s DC Loves Dilla tribute might have left some patrons disappointed, including the drunk guy next to me, but I was anything but let down. Every artist that was able to attend showed up and showed out! The well known Mick Boogie rocked the house with the nostalgic spins of Common, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Pharcyde. At one point the lights went low leaving the screams of an excited audience to illuminate the room. Violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson stops me in mid-gulp of my Heineken with his incredible talent. I was in a trance and I loved every second of it.
I don’t know if it was a light beaming down on me from the heavens, but when De La Soul hit the stage to wrap up the show it felt like my spirit had left my body and intertwined with theirs. Kelvin aka Plug One of the group made my entire life when he stepped down off the platform to meet me in mid air, figuratively of course. This was the highlight of my night! Standing and jamming not even one foot away from this great emcee made me aware of his respect not just for hip hop but for the people of the culture as well.
James “J Dilla” Yancey’s has touched many individuals and will continue to impact the depths of hip hop as the moon is high and the sky is wide. I can only be extremely grateful that he dedicated his life to music because if it were not for him none of this would have ever happened and hip hop would have never evolved.