As dozens of people take part in Saturday's Alliance for Lupus Research Walk to Cure Lupus, some of them will be walking not just to support a worthy cause, but to honor the one and only J Dilla.
Before lupus complications took him away in February of last year at age 32, Detroit-born James Yancey was one of black music's most eclectic and electric beatsmiths, working with the coolest and dopest names (Common, D'Angelo, De La Soul, Madlib) in the R&B/hip-hop game. The J Dilla Project, a new initiative aimed at raising money and awareness for lupus, has a hand in promoting this weekend's walkathon, as well as other ALR walkathons around the country through its MySpace page (www.myspace.com/jdillaproject).
In his brief but well-lived lifetime, Dilla produced enough music to fill a whole iPod, which wouldn't be a bad thing at all to have during this event. Several tunes would be especially appropriate to get participating walkers' blood circulating: Phat Kat's "Game Time," Q-Tip's "Breathe & Stop," Jaylib's "The Mission," Common and D'Angelo's "So Far To Go" and Pharcyde's "Runnin'." Okay, maybe that last one would work better for a marathon.
The Alliance for Lupus Research Walk to Cure Lupus is on Saturday, November 17, at the Jewish Community Center, 5601 S. Braeswood Blvd., 713-729-3200. See walk.lupusresearch.org for more details.
Lately, I keep finding myself mentally coming back to "Nothing Like This" from Dilla's very own Ruff Draft EP, which Stones Throw re-released in two-disc, special-edition form earlier this year. Oh, the thumping bass, the nervy, New Wave sound — if this doesn't psych you into doing something active, you probably have that Epstein-Barr virus.
But it's very likely that many other people have a Dilla song of their own that gets them in a charitable, walking mood. With that in mind, I consulted a few locals about their favorite Dillafied anthems, the ones you should download into your iPod right this minute and get to power-walkin'.
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Busta Rhymes, "Vibe (the Ummah Remix)" ("It's a Party" 12" single, 1996): Hip-hop DJ Mr. Grinch loves the beat's simple yet complex texture. "It was a lively beat with the wah-wah effect going on throughout, but it was mellow, all at the same time," Grinch says. "Dilla was a master at that. All around, just a Jay Dee butter."
Erykah Badu, "Didn't Cha Know?" (Mama's Gun, 2000): "It's my favorite because it's so soulfully smooth," says Vonnie Woods, Web mistress behind local black-music site HoneySoul.com. "It's almost hypnotic."
Slum Village featuring Samiyyah, "Fall in Love" (Trinity (Past, Present and Future), 2002): Music promoter/publicist and former Houstonian Kasey Hearns digs this track "because of the melodic beat, and they're talking about doing what you love no matter what. You have to have passion in life, and you can't sell yourself short because it will pass you by."
Steve Spacek, "Dollar" (Space Shift, 2005): Bobby Phats of KPFT's The Groove loves how this song, released a few months before Dilla's death, highlights his knack for taking a sample and spinning brand-new gold out of it. "[Sampling] Billy Paul's 'Let the Dollar Circulate,' Dilla created a groove like only he can," Phats says. "The track begins with a roughly looped bridge of the original before settling into a nasty, head-nodding funk-fest. This is why he was so important to music, and one of the many reasons he's considered a genius. I miss that dude."