Backpackers don’t get it confused, coz niggas is icy, it ain’t got nothing to do with the music.
Typically, if one were to be quizzed on which emcee dropped that line in a song, the most probable answer would be Lloyd Banks, The Game or a Fabolous, because of their fondness of ice-cold diamonds over their fingers and around their necks hanging like chandeliers. But that’s a line spat by J. Dilla in his track Make Em Envy.
Such is the deliberate and genuine contradiction of this genius producer, who will forever be known as a master sampler who gave our generation unimaginable sounds of Hip Hop, Soul and Jazz. The mention of his name will instantly have you thinking of classic albums such as Like Water For Chocolate by Common, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Slum Village’s Fantastic vol.2. Because of the purity and good moral standing of the music he made, people were quick to assume that if he wasn’t behind his MPC chopping beats, he was on the street alongside the Black Panther party preaching Black Nationalism and saluting every black man as his brother. But that wasn’t the case with the man whose real name was James Yancey.
“People put him in a category of what they think he’s like, but they don’t realise he was about his links. Dilla was always telling Madlib ‘man you gotta get your chain, I know a place that’ll do it…” said Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf in documentary.
We often forget that before artists come into their own, they are normal beings that live in an environment that influences how they see and engage with the world. Dilla grew up in the cold streets of Detroit, Michigan around regular niggas you’d find in the hood, who are normally seen as vanity slaves for their appreciation of the finer things in life.
Dilla met T3 and Baatin in high school and they formed what would be known as Slum Village. After releasing their debut album, Fantastic Vol.1 in 1997, the group was hailed as the new Tribe Called Quest – the torch bearers of conscious Hip Hop and all things soulful and Pan African. The comparison bothered Dilla, because Slum’s lyrics weren’t anything adjacent to the stuff Tribe rapped about.
“It was kinda fucked up because people put us in that category. I mean, you gotta listen to the lyrics of the shit. Niggas was talking about getting head from bitches. It was like a nigga from Native Tongues never woulda said that shit. I don’t know how to say it. It’s kinda fucked up because the audience we were trying to give to were actually people we hung around. Me, myself, I hung around regular ass Detroit cats. Not that backpack shit that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack. But like I said, I understand to a certain point. I guess that’s how the beats came off on some smooth type of shit,” Dilla once said in an interview.
The quote highlights Dilla’s realness to himself and who he is. Being compared to Tribe and the likes of De La Soul, he could’ve easily switched up and ditched the Detroit fella he grew up as, but he never did that. Instead, he chose to vent out his ignant nigga shit through his alter ego, Nigga Man. “…definitely an alter ego, he called him Nigga Man. He’ll start talking about the Range, the Dilla ‘A’ with the fifth wheel on the back…” said August Greene’s Karriem Riggins in the Still Shinning documentary. Dilla’s hood element came out when he stepped in the booth and when he wasn’t creating beats.
It is known that he’s by far the best producer of our time, but his persona is often shelved away as something that wasn’t truly J.Dillaesque. So as you bump your head to some of his most charming beats on this Dilla Month, just get to know the man behind the beat.
There’s so much good music in the world. And The Internet just damn added to that growing list with the release of their fourth studio album, Hive Mind.
I must admit, I was nervous about the release of this album after first hearing singles that came out months before Hive Mind. Roll (Burbank Funk) and Come Over are beautiful songs, but I wasn’t completely convinced about whether this project would be sonically amiable and satisfying as the critically acclaimed Ego Death.
But after repeatedly listening to the entirety of Hive Mind, my doubts were laid to rest. Fans will either love it or nit-pick certain joints, but I don’t expect someone in their right mind to say the album is trash-it’s high quality music from gifted individuals. Hive Mind reveals quite a few things about the group; where they are individually as artists, their music tastes and refusal to be stagnant creatively and camaraderie.
The album opens with a hard-bob flick on Come Together, similar to the one used by A Tribe Called Quest in Excursions. The simple yet complex lyrics of the song, had me thinking it was a socio-political track, but seems like a joint of two lovers at a cross roads. Steve Lacy and Syd neatly compliment each other on vocals. Lacy’s growing presence on vocals gives Syd more room to play around with her voice.
Syd’s voice is an instrument she skilfully plays when she’s on the microphone. On Stay the Night she gently pleads a lover to not go out, and just spend time with her. She’s equally believable on Bravo, where she sarcastically commends a lover for their ongoing childish behaviour, which results in her leaving her partner.
My love let’s get this straight/
This ain’t your show, this ain’t your stage/
So no more standing ovations brought/
Well played, baby/ Save it for the main stage, baby/
Go back to where you came from, came from
Christopher Smith’s drumming is quite focal on this song, together with Patrick Paige II’s bass guitar. I was surprised, but not so much that Smith is one of the writers of the track. If non-stop steamy copulation on a chilly day were a song, Hold On would be it.
Syd has a beautiful way of channelling great 90s R&B female musicians. She showed this in her solo album and does it again here on It Gets Better. I thought The Internet had featured Tamia on this encouraging ditty upon hearing it-it had the feel of Tamia’s Officially Missing You. I would’ve rather not included Paige II’s verse at the end of the song, Big Rube’s spoken word was sufficient in the later stages of the track. Next time/Humble Pie was a lovey listen- the second part of the track.
Q Tip once said in a documentary that the hardest thing about being in a group, is that you constantly have to be considerate of someone else. Even before yourself. But the cool thing about The Internet, is that each of their individual skills shines through in the songs, more so in this album than any of their previous work. As much as Syd is the lead vocalist, it never feels like her own song. There a pieces of Matt Martians, Lacy, Paige II and Smith in their work.
The album is made up of feel good music and it doesn’t get better than La Di Da,Beat Goes On and Roll (Burbank Funk). If rumours of the band coming to South Africa later this year for Afro Punk are true, I would love to see them perform these songs live and also see what effect it’ll have on the crowd.
Maybe it’s the Hip Hop head in me, but I can’t escape the feeling that Wanna Be would’ve been complimented by a dope verse from a rapper. But this might be because the song sounds so similar to Miguel’s Come Through and Chill, where he has Salaam Remi and J.Cole.
It’s a truly funky and soulful body of work they’ve presented to the world, that displays their constant growth and in a way, also asking us to…keep up with The Internet!