Relax. Before you start huffing and puffing, let me explain.
I will always love James Yancey, I just can’t tell you the last time I actually listened to any of his shit (besides now, as I write this). That’s sad, considering Fantastic Vol. 2 is my favourite album of all time and Climax is my favourite song of all time. It’s the only album I can say is the reason behind an 11-year friendship. I would ask DJ Law to play Slum Village every Friday and/or Saturday night at Beat Junkie at the end of the night, he always obliged, and a friendship was born. I was obsessed with SV and Dilla for a long time. I lost that feeling at some point and it’s never come back.
I’m not sure when it happened, but I think it was about a year after he died. Around the time the second wave of Dilla tributes flooded our city. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let me start from the beginning, at the top of the list…
I am not one of those people who remember the first album they ever bought or the first time they heard this track or that album (although I do remember getting a bunch of cassettes one year for Christmas when I was about 10, which included U2, The Black Crowes, and Kriss Kross). I don’t remember the first time I heard Slum Village or how I even came across them. Before I even knew who Dilla actually was or what else he had already produced, I was hooked on his sound.
I had grown up listening to classic rock, Brit pop, and alternative music because of my mom, my aunts had me listening to old school RnB (which wasn’t old school at the time), and I had an uncle who introduced me to classic house (again, it wasn’t ‘classic’ yet). The only hip hop I remember being in my uncle’s vinyl collection was Candyman (I was singing along to ‘Knockin’ Boots’ before I knew what the term meant) and De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High & Rising.’ He could have had more, but that’s all I can remember. It wasn’t until I was 14 and discovered CIUT, CKLN and CHIN that I really started getting into shit I had never listened to before; punk, ska, drum’n’bass, jungle, and hip hop. Hip hop is the only one that lasted.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I was all about SV. I remember reviewing the J-88 album when I was writing for Chart Magazine (I just tried to find the review online but couldn’t). I can’t say I was at the legendary show at the Comfort Zone, but I was there when Dilla was spinning at Roxy Blu (although I remember thinking it wasn’t as good as ?uestlove’s performance for the same Doin’ It series). I was also at every Slum Village show in Toronto after that, but by then I don’t think Jay Dee was performing with them anymore. I put a lot of people onto Dilla and SV, and I even had my first (and only) groupie moment because of him; I once gave my number to Frank (or Dank?) because I was hoping I would be able to meet Dilla through him. Every time he would ask me to go out, I would wait to see if he would throw in “Oh, it’s no big deal. Just dinner with me and this dude I work with, producer cat named Jay Dee.” Unfortunately that never happened (and I therefore stopped picking up his calls).
Fast forward through years of me requesting Climax anytime I was anywhere Law or P-Plus were djing to February 10, 2006. I was waiting for the bus at Christie station, sitting on the bench next to the phone booth when I got a text message from J Class telling me Dilla had died. I was shocked. I had no idea he had been sick. I sat there alone on a bench, surrounded by strangers, and cried. It was the first and only time the death of any person I hadn’t known personally made me react that way.
The tribute parties began shortly after. The first one I remember was at Fez Batik. To this day, I have never seen a longer line to get in anywhere for a local DJ. This wasn’t a concert and there was no big name headliner. It was local DJs playing Dilla’s music and the place was PACKED. It was one of the best Dilla parties I have ever been to. It was the first time I realized though that listening to his music was making me sad. I remember feeling like I was going to cry a few times throughout the party. I attended party after party and the feeling wasn’t going away – this bittersweet feeling had become an uninvited guest that wouldn’t leave. It always started with me wondering why I hadn’t listened to this song or that song in a while. Remembering the amazing feelings his music used to give me. Telling myself I gotta pull out all his albums when I got home. Then it would hit me – he’s gone. Dilla’s gone forever. There will be no new music from him again. I’ll never see him live again. It’s over.
Enter the sadness.
Maybe in this situation I’m just being a pessimist. A Negative Nancy. Sure. I guess I am. But no matter what the same thing happens. Even as I’ve been writing this post, listening to his entire catalogue on shuffle, I went from happy and nostalgic to melancholy. His music has become for me what love letters from ex boyfriends are – great to read once in a while and go back to that moment where everything was tulips and rainbows… until you realize that time is over forever and you get sad.
I still attend Dilla parties every February, but I never find myself listening to his music at home anymore. It just makes me sad. And I don’t want an abundance of sad memories to ever replace the years of good ones he brought into my life.