DC’s Cultural Curator Talks Everything Jay Dee, and DC Loves Dilla
Friday night at the Howard Theatre, HedRush presents the 10th annual celebration of the life and legacy of James “J Dilla” Yancey, one of hip-hop’s most prolific beatmakers. The Couch Sessions caught up with Brent “Munch” Joseph before this milestone event.
The Couch Sessions: How and when did you get involved with putting on DC Loves Dilla?
Brent “Munch” Joseph: John Laine, our music director, approached me shortly after Dilla’s passing. I’m not too sure what the timeframe was, it was definitely between February of 2006, and maybe as early as March or April, because we needed some time to prepare. 2006 was also that year that Roddy Rod and DJ Quartermaine did the first DJ show. So they did the DJ thing in addition to commemorate Dilla and celebrate Dilla. I guess John definitely felt like we should do something big. Something that included a live band and just make it huge, make it something that was a little more grand that represented Dilla, his music, his legacy.
What did you hope to accomplish with this event, and how do you put it together?
The goal was just to celebrate him [Dilla] and to celebrate his music. That was really the big thing. To raise money as well because you may also be aware that there are some financial issues due to his medical situation, certain things being covered, other things not being covered. So we looked at it as way of trying to do what we could and help, try to put a couple dollars where it was needed.
You’ve been putting on shows in the DC area for awhile now. Can you tell me some of the other events you’ve been involved with?
I’m probably going to forget some stuff but Groove Gumbo. Groove Gumbo was an event that myself and a few buddies of mine and I started in 1998. Basically, it was a showcase that not only featured musical artists but also visual artists, a real fun, and entertaining platform for various artistic mediums. So you’d walk in and you might see body painting over here, you’d see a live performance over there. You might see some vendors over there; you might see a photography exhibit. Now depending on the venue, we would have all of these things going on at one time and then in a separate room spoken word. We did that from ‘98 to I think it was 2005.
Even bigger than that was the Movement Sessions. Which was something that we did every Monday night at Bar None, it was Bar None then but it’s now called Pure, people still tell you stories about that spot. That was always a great situation because not many people had the opportunity to just show up somewhere and rock with a live band who would pretty much meld into what you were performing. It was just really a great platform for independent artists. It was really cool, a place where we opened up ourselves and our venue to whoever wanted to progress, whoever wanted to elevate, showcase a business, anything like that. We were always about creating a positive environment for creative people and the supporters who love them.
What does Dilla mean to you? Do you have a favorite beat/song?
I can’t really say right now because I listen to a lot of different tracks for a lot of different reasons. I think that’s kind of the beauty of Dilla, that even though some might say he has a signature sound, when you start listening to his body of work you can’t necessarily say ‘…oh that’s Dilla’ off the break. I try to get people to understand who he is by referencing the artists that he worked with, referencing the songs that he did for those artists. So I’ll say oh you know Find a Way by Tribe Called Quest? Yeah? That’s Dilla. You know what I’m saying? You like Common, Like Water for Chocolate? Yeah. A lot of that album is Dilla, if not most of it. I’ll say you like Erykah Badu? You like Didn’t You Know? Then I’ll start humming the song. And they’re like ‘yeah’, I’m like that’s Dilla. It’s basically educating people every time you have this conversation with folks.
Now as far as what Dilla means to me, I just try to explain the significance of Dilla in terms of everything else that was around at the time. Dilla’s music for me, I think because I grew up in the inner city but I had a lot of influences in music, you know I took classical piano for 12 years, I produced, I DJ’ed. So I’m kind of like in a very unique situation when it comes to music and kind of like the entertainment field on a whole. The one thing I appreciated about his music and the reason why it did resonate the way it did, his music had soul to it. It had more soul than a lot of the music that was coming out at the time. So we’re talking about the late 90s, early 2000s.
It went from that 90s golden era where there was so much diversity and variety in hip hop and as the decade went on, it seemed like that diversity was narrower and narrower and no doubt because of corporate interests and the fact that when a certain kind of music becomes popular, people try to find the best way to capitalize on it to make money. Whatever you can make popular, then that’s what’s going to go into that machine and get churned out. It’s not always going to be authentic, it’s not always going to be real, it’s not always going to be organic but at the end of the day, for them it’s just money. It’s not about culture. I really felt like Jay Dee’s music was exactly the antithesis of that. I feel like Dilla’s music still had sensibilities of that era. Based on how the music felt, the swing, and the samples being used.
How did you decide on the talent for this year’s event? Are there any particular artists you would like to work with in the future?
Well I can only speak on the headliners, if that’s okay?
For us, we’ve been trying to get to Common, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip and the Busta’s of the world, I would say since the inception of the show, and it’s always been very challenging.
It’s very challenging because you don’t always have the connection to the artist. You don’t always have the connection to the management, you don’t always have the right information, and you don’t always have the right phone number. When you do get it, whoever that person is, they may not be the person you think it is, they may not really be the connector and then even if they are the connector, now you have to deal with okay, this person doesn’t necessarily know who I am. So now you have to explain who I am, what it is, what we do, and explain the caliber of what it is. So there are so many levels to this thing, it’s a challenge.
But to make a long story short, we definitely target those folks every year. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This year it worked. Eventually something is going to fall into place. This year we got Common which was absolutely on John’s bucket list. Definitely on John’s and my bucket list of artists to represent for Dilla at our tribute concert. This year, it finally came into place. Another thing that also kind of lends, that contributes to this storyline as well is the fact that this also happens to be an anniversary year for Fantastic Volume 2 which will be celebrating its 15th anniversary. That’s significant because Common is on that album. I can’t recall whether he was on any other Slum Village album prior to that or on any other recording.
It’s always important to highlight people who appreciated his music and who kind of embodied the work. Georgia Ann is a very talented sister; I’ve known her and been in the community with her for quite awhile, since the early 2000s. She been out here. She performed at Bar None, the Movement Sessions back in the day. I knew then what kind of talent she was working with, so for me to fast forward it 10, 15 years and have the opportunity to present her talent in this way is incredible.
DC Loves Dilla is now in its 10th year, that’s incredible. What do you see happening in the next 10 years?
I definitely don’t want to give away too many things but I definitely see us traveling. I don’t know if you know but we actually headlined at South by Southwest this year.
That was a BIG DEAL
So we were an official headliner for South by Southwest this year. That’s also part of, it’s more reinforcement for a few things. It’s reinforcement of Dilla’s legacy, it’s reinforcement of the talent, the hard work, and the dedication the musicians have been putting into this for so many years. You know what I mean? It kind of helps people to see the scope of Dilla, as well as the scope of DC Loves Dilla. At the end of the day, it’s really just about going out, doing great music, inspiring people and just having a good time. Just bringing more awareness to music and creativity and just soulful art on a whole.
What can the people expect on Friday?
For people who’ve already been to the show, they already know what to expect. I always sum the show up in this way that is the DC Loves Dilla tribute is equal parts entertainment and spirit. It’s a space that is organic, pure and revered. It’s a space where the energy and electricity just is extremely thick. You can feel the presence of Dilla. You can feel the love that people have for Dilla and his music that he created and his influence. It’s not a pretentious thing. I feel like when everybody walks in the door, they walk in with a particular spirit, and when they walk out, they walk out either transformed or just feeling like they’re on a cloud. It’s a very beautiful environment and space for the music, whether it be hip hop, soul, and jazz. It’s a variety of things. It’s not just a hip hop show. It’s not just a soul show. You have a live band ensemble so you never know what you’re going to get. That’s pretty much the beauty of the show. It’s entertaining and it’s spiritual, it’s just musically incredible. And the music is various. It’s a real musical event. I never want people to call it a hip hop show, because it’s not a hip hop show.
J Dilla died from Lupus complications in 2006. Proceeds from this event benefit the J Dilla Foundation and the Lupus Foundation of Greater Washington, DC.