LIVE: DC Loves Dilla at The Black Cat

Words by DeVon Thompson. Photos by Kimberly Gaines (@sondaixpression)

At a certain point it’s easy to become nonchalant and even a little cynical about what we take for granted. After numerous shows certain things are to be expected, long lines, whimsical start times, your understanding of how intoxicated people act in certain atmospheres and most of the time energy levels vary depending performances although this was not one of those times. The 5th Annual D.C. loves Dilla, held at The Black Cat, D.C.’s around the way Dive bar/concert venue was the opposite of these things.

One thing that was predictable was the always amazing mix of people of all colors that hip hop brings together. Not much of a wait as the The Black Cat staff moved everyone quickly into the venue on a sultry July night. ID’s checked, hands stamped and I walked upstairs to the enter the concert space to the sounds of Q-tip as the DJ nodded and bobbed his head along preparing for the next choice of mood music. The crowd clustered around the bars and mixed and mingled. Some checked out some of the information on hand about the Arizona Anti immigration law SB1070, a topic that was emphasized throughout the night as organizers and even the artists encouraged the audience to reject the law that requires every Arizona resident to provide proof of citizenship upon demand by law enforcement. Another noticeable nonprofit was the Lupus Foundation which proceeds of the event were donated to as the man who’s music I and many others came to hear and celebrate passed away of the incurable, still largely unknown but more prevalent disease.

As I along with others waited after an hour the host for the evening Grap Luva, magically appeared and as the band “The Players” along with background singers for the evening Alison Carney and J. Hill took the stage set us up for what was planned by Grap Luva initiating call n’ response “ Say Dilla! Turn it up!” Also announcing that we the audience were the “Black Cat family” for the night. Grap Luva called for a moment of Silence for J. Dilla, the room quickly fell silent for a moment and then the “The Players” livened up the venue as the instruments came alive and the first act Artemus and E Major took the stage and performed “You know what love is” Not many in the audience seemed to know the duo honestly myself included but out of respect everyone vibed along.

The DJ really caught everyone’s attention in between sets as The Pharcyde’s classic “Runnin’ “ came on and the audience perked up with excitement which segwayed into J. Sands performance of “I feel good” which elicited another flat response from the audience but immediately following J. Sands was Baltimore MC, Chislam the great who gave a very energetic rendition of Q-tip’s “ride” which grabbed the audiences attention because of it being such a familiar song, it put a smile on my face. After Chislam the Great was Kokayi, definitely well known in the D.C. hip hop scene and beyond. Kokayi energized the audience even more as soon as stepped on stage saying “I just want to say Fuck BP” which received a rousing celebratory cheer and hands in the air as he went into his “Trucks” of course all songs produced by J.Dilla but as I looked around most had the same feeling I did as I saw people mouthing “He produced this!?”

Alison Carney gave a welcomed performance of Erykah Badu’s “Kiss me on my neck” which was definitely a song to sing along as most did. There was definitely a sense of the show being ramped up leading to the headliner as W. Ellington Felton followed Ms. Carney and performed a high energy rendition of “Diamonds” off of Dilla Loves Japan which then had the band show off their skills as they played the classic Dilla joint “Fall in Love” and 17 year old Sax player with the band showcased his talents and had me and many others zoning out humming along.

The show hit its peak as no sooner did the band lower the music from crowd pleaser volumes to a background whisper did Mrs. Yancey affectionately known as “Ma Dukes” come out and address the audience. Receiving an automatic round of applause her words resonated strongly with me as she expressed how much she loves our support. Giving us an update on her non-profit and how she encourages hip hop to be a positive force of change in the world and finally reminding us to support the Lupus Foundation to help in the fight against the disease. After Ma Dukes wonderfully inspirational words, Maimouna Yousef, a definite rising star continued with Mama’s Gun and sung “Didn’t know” which had everyone in my corner of the venue singing along as like Alison Carney she internalized the song and more than did the song justice.

An act away from the headliner Oddisee popped on stage and immediately went into a rendition of Rapper Big Pooh’s “Plastic Cups” which used the Gobstopper beat off of Donuts. Then Diamond District got together on stage and performed “Fuck the Police” over classic Dilla beat. As the show flowed there was hardly any lag time as Talib Kweli came and wasted no time only saying “I haven’t performed these songs in a while” as he went into “Right to left, left to right” off of Quality and then set the stage for his classic off of Train of thought “Love” over the ‘reminisce’ beat. The day had been a long one for me and I decided to exit but when it comes to tributes this was well done, every performance was done with soul and a lot of love for the music they were performing. It is sad James Yancey aka J. Dilla is no longer with us but his music has been the soundtrack of my life and so many others for the past 15 years, and I can say without hesitation that Yes! D.C. does love Dilla and if you missed this year, show your love next year.