The official reason hundreds of hip-hop artists, adorers and advocates packed into Atlanta’s Landmark Theater on Thursday was to see Phife’s new “Dear Dilla” video, a tribute to the late James Dewitt Yancey, aka J Dilla.
But the event’s significance was much greater — much like the acclaimed hip-hop producer’s catalog.
Rasta Root, a highly regarded DJ and producer in his own right, created the track. Sadly, he was also the one to tell Phife of J Dilla’s untimely death due to lupus complications in February 2006.
“Ever since then, I knew I had to do a dedication for him,” Phife said. “This was the right time.”
The video officially drops Feb. 11. It took about 10 months to make, and kicks off with Phife laid up in a hospital, frustrated with the Chicago vs. New York score, among other things.
Rasta Root and Ali Shaheed Muhammad make cameos, mostly to discourage Phife from packing on the pounds and pushing him to stay healthy. It’s a humorous flip on Phife’s serious battle with diabetes.
4-Ize made it clear that in addition to Phife’s triumphant return to the mic after 14 years since his last single, and on the eve of Dilla Day, the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.
“I was supposed to be an extra [in the video],” 4-Ize said. But he was there when Rasta Root was making the beat, and he just happened to be in Chicago when Rok and the crew were filming.
Now, here sat 4-Ize on the panel, with his brother visiting from Chicago to witness what he insisted was the universe at work.
It came full circle, he said. “Nothing is a coincidence.”
Rok could say the same, as his original love for breaking brought him to filmmaking — music videos in particular. “If I didn’t do what I love,” Rok said, “I wouldn’t have been led here.”
Rasta Root had a different, but related take. His tendency is to do things organically, to just let things line up in any given situation, he said. And working with Rok just fit.
The same could be said of Phife’s new album, Muddy Morphosis, to be released later this year on Rasta Root’s Smokin Needles label. Phife treated the audience to a verse toward the end of the event, a well-received sample of what’s to come.
As for that long-awaited, always debated next ATCQ album, Phife said, “I wouldn’t mind doing it, but I’m only one fourth of A Tribe Called Quest.” Then again, “I can really do this solo stuff,” he said — to cheers and claps.
There was an afterparty at El Bar where Rasta Root would take to the tables, and Friday, the crew headed to Detroit, J Dilla’s hometown, for Dilla Day.
Along with a plethora of hip-hop luminaries including Dilla’s group Slum Village, Pete Rock, DJ Premier and De La Soul, a very special guest would be on hand to see “Dear Dilla” for the first time: Dilla’s mom, Mrs. Yancey.
Like the family members and loved ones who held framed photos of Dilla in front of Detroit landmarks throughout the video, and like the music Dilla made and the hip-hop we love, it’s authentic and everlasting.
As Rok said, “It’s not old, it’s just a certain style of music. It’s present, just like anything else.”