We wrap up Dilla Week, in celebration of #93 in the 33 1/3 series, J Dilla’s Donuts by Jordan Ferguson (out now!), with our perennial favorite feature: the video vault. Enjoy, and thanks to Jordan for his hard and thoughtful work!
Deciding on a video to wrap up Donuts week proved more difficult than I was expecting. I wanted to hand the spotlight to the man himself, but considering the nature of the album and the circumstances of its creation, there aren’t any official videos or live footage of its music. Meaning I’d have to go back further.
Initially I thought I would share some footage from J Dilla’s 2005 European tour. Performing from a wheelchair each night, the tour was the moment many learned of or understood the severity of his illness, as well as an inspiring example of his perseverance and dedication during the hardest times. A somber note to go out on, perhaps, but fitting. Or was it?
In the book I try to argue (among other things) that even though Donuts might be a work about mortality, it has numerous moments of calm and peace, that in many ways it’s a record about life as much as it is about death. Ending the week with images of him in the chair began to strike me as a betrayal of that thesis.
No, I wanted to go out on a high note. I wanted you to see a man at the height of his abilities, performing one of his hardest slamming songs in front of an appreciative audience alongside the man who may have understood him artistically better than anyone else. So I bring you this clip of J Dilla performing “Fuck the Police” from a show at Camden’s Jazz Café in 2004.
If there’s one thing I learned about the man during the act of researching and writing this book, it’s that he seemed supremely confident in his own sense of self. He could find inspiration and creative energy collaborating with eccentric artists like Erykah Badu or Common at his most experimental, but when it came to his own work, he was just as happy to celebrate weed, women, trucks and the occasional act of resistance to local law enforcement as he was covering Donald Byrd songs or incorporating Afrobeat.
That’s why I’ve always loved “F*ck the Police.” Not just because it’s one of the nastiest beats he ever put to wax, but because it speaks to the reality of the man versus the perception some people had of him. As rapper Chino XL told LA Weekly earlier this year, “His fanbase’s demographic is different and developed a neo-soul vibe, which is a trip because, in a sense, Dilla was mad gangsta.” As fans, we don’t get pick and choose the ones we like or agree with and discard the ones we don’t. Because they’re all part of him, and every part of him went into the music that we love so much.
J Dilla’s Donuts is available on Amazon, at Bloomsbury.com, or wherever 33 1/3s are sold.