Hundreds of dancing, drinking and smoking Madlib fans froze their feet, bowed their heads and uttered not a sound during a rare moment of silence at the thumpin' late night club Mezzanine in San Francisco, February 17. What was supposed to be a raucous, funky all-night dance party starring superproducer Madlib and his eight-piece band had become a lively but bittersweet tribute to fellow Stones Throw label producer James Yancey (J Dilla), who died one week earlier — on February 10, just three days after his 32nd birthday — from complications due to a rare blood disease. Yancey had worked with Madlib, MF Doom, Ghostface Killah and many, many icons of hip-hop during his notable 14-year career.
“This is one of my most important DJ gigs ever,” said Dilla's friend and fellow musician J. Rocc (of the Beat Junkies) from the stage. “Be prepared to hear some songs twice. It's going to be an all — J Dilla night.” He then played Janet Jackson and Q-Tip's single “Got 'Til It's Gone,” which samples the “Don't know what you got 'til it's gone” chorus of Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi.” DJs Proof, Egon, Hakobo and Stone's Throw label founder Peanut Butter Wolf also took turns playing seven hours of Dilla favorites on the stripped-down setup — a Mac laptop running Serato Scratch Live 1.5 linked to a Roland SP-404 sampler, a Pioneer EFX-1000 effects unit and Rane TTM 56 mixer.
“Canceling the band and doing an all-Dilla night seemed to be the respectful thing to do just days after the funeral,” said Peanut Butter Wolf (aka Chris Manak). Some fans seemed bummed about the lineup change, but most ended up enjoying the meandering mix of old-school hip-hop and jazz cut ups. That is, until the crowd starting stomping for Madlib as he stepped out from behind the turntable at 2 a.m. with a mic in one hand. Bars across the West Coast closed their doors as the hip-hop star announced, “I'd like to get a moment of silence for J Dilla.” Four hours of continuous beats stopped and the crowd shushed. “Woot-woot!” went a few stragglers. “I said a moment of silence,” Madlib scolded, and this time only the club's ventilation fans dared breathe. The void roared at everyone in attendance, and a satisfied Madlib nodded to J. Rocc. “Let's move on then,” he said. And Rocc promptly dropped the beat once again.