A Night of J Dilla
featuring ISM and The Fan-tas-tics
@ Madrone Art Bar
July 28, 2010
Better than: A night of Steve Milla.
James Yancey, a.k.a. Jay Dee, a.k.a. J Dilla, is somewhere between 2Pac and Pimp C in the running for the title of hip-hop's hardest-working dead guy. His death of lupus in 2006, three days after his 32nd birthday and the release of his much-lauded instrumental sketch collection Donuts, hasn't stopped him from remaining a prolific producer: Dilla's grittily glittery beats continue to crop up under rappers from Busta Rhymes to Raekwon, and in solo collections including 2006's The Shining, the following year's Ruff Draft, and last year's possibly illegitimate Jay Stay Paid. Not for nothing is the man revered even beyond the crypt: his brash, joyous sample-weaving and careful rhythmic imprecision helped escort a whole generation of rap groups -- De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Pharcyde, to name a few -- into the "legendary" category.
Why was last night, four years, five months, and 19 days after Dilla died, the night to pay tribute? No particular reason. The proceedings were simple and friendly: a bunch of flat-brimmed bros wanted to share their affection for the legend -- also, Ian McDonald, a.k.a. ISM, wanted to kick off a regular DJ gig at Madrone -- so they threw a dance party. The main attraction was the Fan-Tas-Tics (the name a nod to the first two albums by Detroit's Slum Village, of which Dilla was a founding member): a funk-hop quartet that had rehearsed for the first time the day before, cobbled together from Bay Area mainstays Destruments and Monophonics. Oakland MC Seneca, who said he stopped by Madrone on a whim, played hype man for most of the set ("San Francisco got the best weed -- get hiiigh"; "Let's make a T-shirt that says 'What would Dilla do?'"; obligatory Oscar Grant/fuck the police shoutout). ISM spun records -- or appeared to spin them, though he never actually changed the vinyl--before and after the set, nothing but Dilla jams.
Everything about the evening had an amateurish quality, from the endless episodes of Streets of San Francisco projected on the walls down to ISM's crossfades, but let's not miss the point: it was every bit as good, lively, positive, and reverent as it needed to be. At their best, The Fan-Tas-Tics caught the groove of re-sourced Dilla samples and rode them into beautifully blunted sunsets. (Highlight: the five-minute jam on Cris Williamson's "Shine On Straight Arrow," by way of "The Red" from Dilla's collaboration with Oxnard producer Madlib.) At their worst, they were still a handful of respectively talented dudes paying homage to a common influence who was, as Seneca put it, "one of the greatest to ever touch an MPC." For this, the neighborhood art bar was the place to be, and that seemed to suit the party people in it just fine.
Overheard line: "Can I have a Dirty Sanchez?" (Which is, to be fair, the name of a drink at Madrone.)
Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown