Coming off of his successful Philly Loves Dilla party –you can see the photos above. We recently caught up with Philadelphia promoter George Lawrence of gL Productions to talk about his love for Dilla.
Tell us who you are?
George Lawrence: I got into the music/entertainment industry cuz it’s kinda the family business. My father was a road manager and tech person for Bob James, Billy Ocean and a lot of other notable people. My uncle toured the world as a sound man for Kool N The Gang. They were the first Blacks to join their respective unions in Atlantic City and each worked 20+ years in the casino entertainment industry. I’ve been around stage production my entire life. I was a club kid as a teenager and always gravitated towards DJ culture. I own turntables and worked for both King Britt and Rich Medina before I started developing my brand, gL Productions. We curate, coordinate and promote events in Philadelphia and beyond. I’m a Hip-Hop enthusiast, but one of my biggest accomplishments is having different styles of music and a diversity of people at my events. Music and culture are passions of mine. I believe that quality exists in the details.
Since rappers get most of the shine in life and some times in death (biggie, tupac) what made you want to do a celebration of Dilla?
The thing with Dilla is that most producers/musicians are known for “a sound”. That’s one sound that they’ve polished and made their own to help them communicate their art form. Dilla on the other hand had multiple sounds that were associated with him as a producer. DJs and collectors dig hard for some of those original records that he sampled, and that chipmunk vocal style sampling that Kanye made popular–he got that from Dilla. Producers are still trying to recreate his big drum sound and how he would arrange his synths and melodies. Plus, he’s a Soulquarian, who were basically responsible for bringing backpack rap up from the underground, making conscious rappers relevant in mainstream Hip-Hop again and reinventing Soul music for a modern audience. He owned a period of time and space, and he’s not with us anymore. Dude is almost mythical, and you were either there before Donuts or follow the folklore that grew after The Shining. When we decided to do our first Dilla tribute it actually came together as a response to other things we saw happening in Philly. Long story short, Stacey and I both felt that the legacy of J Dilla wasn’t being properly represented. We were discussing it one night, and the next day we started planning. It was a pretty involved production, and we only had 15 days to plan, book, coordinate and promote our event. It wound up being on a Monday night which was the last day in February, and we had no idea how successful it was going to be. It was just one of those things we felt we had to do. Philly Loves J Dilla, and we wanted people to know that.
What are your first memories of Dilla?
Dilla is one of those producers that I was a fan of his music before I even knew who he was. I was familiar with a lot of the records he produced (different artists and remixes), but it wasn’t until 2005 that I really got educated on Welcome 2 Detroit, Fantastic Vol. 2, Electric Circus, The Ummah, Jaylib, Ruff Draft–and it was kinda mind blowing how vast his catalogue was. So I was finally putting two and two together and realizing that Jay-Dee, J Dilla, Slum Village and all these different acts were really the same person, and he became one of the main artists whose work I wanted to collect and be influenced by. It was kinda surreal tho, because, at the time, it felt like as fast as he came into my life he passed away less than a year later. His music is very impressionable.
How has the event grown in the past few years?
It’s not so much about growth at this point as it is about consistency. Last year’s event featured Questlove and Rich Medina. This year’s special guests are Prince Paul and Waajeed. The J Dilla Foundation also asked if Ma Dukes could come to Philly to check out our event and get involved in the night, so that’s a pretty big deal for Dilla fans to be able to meet her and get autographs signed. We’ve put together a strong formula with our Philly Loves series, and we’d really like to focus on developing the brand. Johnny Brenda’s is a great venue, and we have some dope things lined up for 2014.
What is it about Philly that makes it seem to have an extraordinary connection to Dilla’s music?
To keep it simple, Questlove and James Poyser, who are from Philly, are also Soulquarians, and some of the music they made with Dilla happened at Larry Gold’s studio on 7th Street. Plus all the things that Detroit and Philly have in common: they’re both blue collar cities with rich music history, especially when it comes to Soul music (Motown and TSOP, Berry Gordy and Gamble & Huff), hit hard by gentrification and economic depression, who created soundtracks that literally shaped the perception of America to people around the world. I also think that Dilla had just as much of a connection to Philly as we do to his music. Back when Bobbito opened his second Footwork location, here in Philly with Rich Medina, Dilla would go record shopping there. He needed to be surrounded by people of a certain musical IQ, and Philly has a certain type of creative energy connected to the people here.
You’ve thrown/organized/put to gether so many events over the years, what makes this one special for you?
What makes any Dilla tribute special to me is that the crowd gets to interact with people who were close to him, like Questlove and Waajeed, especially this year with Ma Dukes. That’s part of the thrill. These are people who broke bread with Dilla, and we have intimate access to them on stage. There aren’t many artists who we can celebrate like that. Most of our icons aren’t accessible, and we celebrate them from a far. As a curator, I have the opportunity to use my cultural and musical knowledge to tribute an artist how I would like to see his legacy live on, and part of the allure of Dilla is he was an independent artist whose music represented the evolution of Hip-Hop. Music is eternal, and much of the music he made is timeless. People are still just learning about him, and his music is still turning people onto new music. His influence is powerful.
Photos: Ryan Farber