Dear Dilla: Hip-hop will always love you

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I can hardly believe it has been eight years since hip-hop lost James “J.Dilla” Yancey. February 7 would have been his 40th birthday.

Since his untimely passing from a rare blood disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, and complications related to lupus, the posthumous tributes have been ongoing. They were never simply a trend, or a rallying cry to gather performers and fans.

It is literally impossible to pay homage to the late Golden Era to the mid 2000s hip-hop without honoring J.Dilla. I dare you to try. Not only did he largely construct the sounds of the A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Erykah Badu and Common, there are some pop songs – Janet Jackson’s “Got Til It’s Gone” and others, some of which he did not receive credit.

So while Dilla is gone from physical form, he will never be forgotten. To do so would be to forget who we are as MCs, writers, producers, DJs and individuals that keep powerful beats and rhymes in their everyday lives.

Photo: Dilla Day in the A, Friday November 22, 2013, with Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey

Welcome 2014!

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Last year was the year of the selfie and I got some really good ones.

But more important than the mobile phone enabled exercises in mental masturbation, were the real connections with people. I was very fortunate to meet many folks I’ve admired in music, film, makeup artistry and other creative media.

So go ahead and touch someone (or yourself) as we reflect on 2013.

The highlights:

I moderated an International Music Conference panel discussion on publicity.

I did makeup on a film set for the first time. More to come…

I met Young Guru.

I wished Talib Kweli happy birthday.

I met a really nice guy with whom I have A LOT in common.

I talked to CeeLo again in a brief, but meaningful conversation.

I got a quick interview with Erykah Badu.

I got a good sit-down interview with MC Lyte.

I met people living in other countries that are better at keeping in touch with me than people a few neighborhoods over in ATL.

I was blessed with a new career opportunity very late in the year.

Finally, I took a selfie with Questlove.   Yes, ?uestlove.  Quest-freaking-love, the drummer of the Legendary Roots Crew that I’ve jammed to before Fallon, before he was named Time magazine’s coolest person of the year and long before the global acknowledgment his group are hip-hop’s preeminent, improvisational, badasses.

That, as the kids say, was everything.

The Commemoration

50th Anniversary march

Most of my peers, both personally and professionally, were born at least a decade after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led August 28, 1963 March on Washington. While we are not total strangers to racial inequality, we have nothing in our collective experience even remotely close to life in the turbulent Civil Rights era.

Some of us witnessed the dangers of crime and violence in neighborhoods where the opportunities had gone away to suburbs or lands overseas but none of us knew a world where the mere act of assembly, especially with friends of a different color, could end your life or land you in jail.

Today, none of us even knows the difficulties of gathering. We do not know the challenges of organizing closed strategic meetings in undisclosed locations through word of mouth – phone lines were tapped and for some families a home phone was a luxury. Today, global communication is as close as a few words in a text or social media application away. We exact rapid change online. We even have change.org to expedite our processes. Social activism is literally in our hands.

To put it bluntly, we have it easy. If you are a person of color with post-secondary education, live and work relatively safely in or near a major American city among people of multiple racial and ethnic groups, chances are your general quality of life is significantly better than it would have been 50 years ago. Of course, job discrimination, unemployment and economic strife are still regular realities for many Americans, but the possibilities to escape through education, career or with help through public and private assistance are numerous. And regardless of where you stand in the political strata, a black identifying biracial president is incredible progress.

All we have to do now is commemorate the past. Remember, pay homage and learn. Talk to your children, young family members or other youth. Because we will never understand, we can only look back in reverence.

Read the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech here.

Read the full text of Obama’s August 28, 2013 Commemoration speech here.

Linking up with 2 Chainz

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I first met 2 Chainz, then Tity Boi, in October 2009 after the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was watching performers exit and chatting with fans and anyone else who wanted to talk. He introduced himself and gave me his cell phone number.

We did not talk again until this interview from fall 2011.

At the time, the artist formerly known as Tity Boy talked collabos, codeine and what he really thinks about hair weaves. This all went down before the release of his Grammy-nominated album,  Based on a T.R.U. Story, and his part as a major component to radio rap singles – “The Birthday Song,” “Mercy,” “I Love Dem Strippers,” “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “I’m Different,” and “F*ckin’ Problem” –  in a flurry of releases of the past year.

Articulate and polite, he’s different, yeah he’s different – very much than his strip-club and round-rumped birthday gift loving video persona. A lot has changed since my phone conversation to the College Park, Ga. native, born Tauheed Epps. Tity Boy was no more and he was busy re-introducing himself.

“My fans understand me as an artist. I believe in prosperity so I grow with every project. I know each one is better than the last one,” he explains. “Everyone has to be better than the last one.”

His previous mixtapes, Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. REALigion generated only moderate buzz. In 2011, he was promoting his now shelved mixtape, Hair Weave Killa. Instead of breaking down the song content, he made a point to tell me that he doesn’t have a problem with women’s hairstyle choices.

“Hair Weave Killa is just another a.k.a. My whole take is pulling hair whether in the bedroom or partying hard, just sweating it out,” he says laughing.

As for his “Tity Boi,” moniker, the true meaning has little to do with mammary objectification. “It’s a country name,” he explained. “It’s nothing derogatory towards women. It comes from my family. It has to do with being spoiled, being an only child.”

He continues, “My name has always been 2 Chainz. I had them on in my 8th grade yearbook picture. It just kinda happened one day.”

His unceremonious name change came after the release of Playaz Circle’s 2007 album Supply and Demand while on Ludacris’ Disturbing The Peace imprint.  The single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne, was their biggest hit. Chainz is still grateful for Wayne’s contribution.

“Not as many people would know me if it wasn’t for Dwayne Carter. I’ve known him for a decade,” he says, “Shouts out to Young Money.”

His connection to Weezy and their shared passion for “purple drank” also had a major influence on Chainz’s mixtape, Me Against the World 2: Codeine Withdrawal. Followers of southern hip hop are intimately familiar with several artists’ love for the sweet but dangerous stuff – Texans DJ Screw and Pimp C are among the drug’s best known casualties.

If you do too much of anything, it’s bad for you,” 2 Chainz warns. “[Codeine] is prescribed by doctors to help, not abuse.” (At the time of the interview, I was battling a cold and he said that I could use some. I stuck to Mucinex).

Whether he’s still sippin’ on sizzurp or not, he’s focused and been since he hit the scene through DTP with childhood friend Earl Conyers a.k.a. Dolla Boy. They chose the name as an acronym of Playaz (Preparing Legal Assets from Years A-Z) to let fans know that they planned to be around for the long haul.

“We had the same common denominator, talking about hustling and making money,” 2 Chainz says about his now long defunct duo.

The two met up with Ludacris through a mutual friend when they lived in the same apartment complex near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. While he and Luda have known each other for more than a dozen years, online rumors circulated that their friendship was strained at the time of the eventual departure. Ludacris cleared the air in a June 2012 interview on New York’s Hot 97, stating that “I still call him Tit. That’s the homie man, that’s family…I’m extremely proud of him.”

At the time of our interview, 2 Chainz offered no details on his relationship with Luda.

As the conversation moved deeper into his past, he was reluctant to talk – particularly about the violence and incarceration of his Playaz Circle rhyme partner that stalled his career. “Where I come from we call that puberty; we consider that part of adolescence. I don’t even want to elaborate on that,” he says with grave seriousness. “People get shot.”

Nowadays, 2 Chainz  is mostly concerned with shooting videos. When we talked, there was nothing anything unique or unusual, nor was there anything indicating that he was on the brink of new success. Despite the protest of parents, women and proponents of  lyrically meaningful hip-hop, his star continues to rise.

His new single is set for debut at the Hot 97 Summer  Jam in New York City.

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