From Detroit to Miami and Back Again: Honoring the Vision of J Dilla Through Our Commitment to the Youth

By Tony Muhammad



Young people practice graffiti at the J Dilla Tribute

On the weekend of February 6 – 8, the Miami Hip Hop community honored the life and music of Detroit-born James Dewitt Yancey AKA J Dilla, one of the most innovative producers of the classic “boom bap” style who has inspired an innumerable amount of underground Hip Hop producers in the past 15 years.  While the concerts which were headlined by legends such as Pete Rock, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Madlib, Slum Village, Camp Lo and DJ Tony Touch and long-time underground veterans such as Wrekonize of Mayday were hailed as nothing short from amazing by many who attended, without question, the most important event of them all took place on Sunday afternoon in the Miami’s Design District – the Young Artist Workshop.  At the gathering, children ages 6 – 12 were engaged in graffiti drawing and painting and afterwards were treated to a panel discussion featuring producers such as Pete Rock, Divinci (of the Solilaquists of Sound), Dj Statik Selektah, Black Milk, Young RJ and Miami’s own Hazadis Sounds.  The longevity of a culture is greatly determined by the degree to which parents and adults actively work to pass on the rich traditions of that culture to the next generation.  The aim in mind is not to simply seek to have the youth preserve and continue the traditions, but to far exceed and improve on the creative and productive work of the previous generations as they in turn lay a foundational framework for the generations that follow.


J Dilla with one of his daughters

The young Grammy award winning music producer died at the age of 32 on February 10, 2006 from cardiac arrest resonating from his battles with lupus and the rare blood disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.  He is survived by two daughters whom he dearly loved. To organize a youth gathering is to fall in line with the vision of J Dilla who is described by many artists who had the opportunity to work with him as “all love.” Ms. Maureen Yancey, Dilla’s mother who is also over The J Dilla Foundation and was in attendance with family for the Miami gathering, says “One of the things he wanted me to do with his legacy was to use it to help others… kids who were musically gifted but had little hope due to poverty.”  The foundation is dedicated to the funding and encouraging of progressive music curricula and programs for the benefit of urban youth and the communities they will potentially serve.

For the majority of those who grew up in Hip Hop’s Golden Era (late 80s/early 90s) today they themselves are raising their own children and have a vested interest to have them learn about the music and the culture that have inspired them to produce the greatness that they have brought forth in the world.

DJ Heron, the organizer of the weekend long celebration, explains:


DJ Heron

“I’m a father of two wonderful boys and I want them to embed and embrace the True Culture of Boom Bap (Real Hip Hop). Ever since I was a boy I would embrace all the music my dad would listen to in the car. My Mom and Dad would take me to all the Cultural events that were happening in Flushing, Queens as a boy. It was fun but there wasn’t a lot for kids. We wanted to make an event where the parents could be at the panel and listen to the words of DJ Pete Rock, Black Milk , DJ Statik Selektah (just to name a few) and the kids be in another area doing kids things. So we joined up with Candy (Molia) from Child of This Culture Foundation and created a Young Artist Workshop for young inspiring artists so that they could play with spray paint as they wait for their parents.”

Candy with Elo

Candy Molia and daughter Elo

Also in attendance was Chapter Leader of The Dynasty Zulus Charter of the Universal Zulu Nation (based in Florida), Minister Debbie Soto along with her husband Angel Soto and children.  She commented concerning the importance of the creation of a youth component to the J Dilla Tribute gathering:


Minister Debbie Soto along with Maureen Yancey and family

“Having an event geared towards the youth during the Dilla weekend is of major significance to myself not only as a parent, as a Universal Zulu Nation member but as a proud member of this culture.  How else can they learn about the elements and actually immerse themselves into the culture if there isn’t a place for them in these events? By fostering an environment of inclusion, such as this event, we are making certain we are properly preserving and teaching the culture. To witness them soaking it all up, actively and happily participating is music to the soul.  Our generation holds the key since we are by all intensive purposes, the elders of this culture, some of us having been a part of it since its inception in 1973. As such, it is our duty to pass the figurative torch to the next generation by each one, teach one, reach one. We hold the youth’s attention for a short amount of time, we need to positively influence them with the knowledge and wisdom we have learned about our culture if we are to see it thriving in the next generation.”


Panel featuring DJ Pete Rock and others (Photo courtesy of Debbie Soto)

Professor Griff of Public Enemy says that “Revolution is not an event, it’s a process.”  In order to bring about the changes that we want to see as elders, mentors and gatekeepers in Hip Hop, it is going to require on-going commitment and work with the youth.  Playing his part to close the cultural gap generationally is local underground Hip Hop producer The Maharajah (Aka Professor Mo Re Arty).  When he is not producing, he is teaching at a middle school in Miami-Dade.  Being inspired by J Dilla himself, there is very little to no separation between whom he is in the classroom and who he is in the studio.  He comments about his consistent work exposing his own child and the children that he teaches about the great body of music that Hip Hop was founded under:


The Maharajah

“I take the art of music and music history very seriously. The art of music is truly another language for the truly appreciative listener, and knowing a least the background history of that particular musician or musicians gives the listener an even deeper understanding. A parent or teacher who is dedicated to this music, whatever genre, should have a broad pallet of understanding of music that they can expose and educate the average listener to it. My daughter, who is currently two, gets an earful on a regular basis. Be it Hip Hop, Jazz, Classical, R ‘n’ B, etc. I also sit and show her LP, CD and YouTube covers of the musicians and explain the instruments that they play. I try not to expose her to today’s current “rap” music due to the fact that it really is to “sexual base” and frankly just talking about nothing, but when she is with her mom I know that she get that earful.”

He adds:

“As for in my class I play mostly Jazz, Classical, and Hip Hop instrumentals for them. I use it as background filler while they work but every once in a while you can see student bopping their head to the music when the spirit truly hits them.”

Also inspired by J Dilla’s style of production is Detroit-based Saar Understanding Allah.  A father himself, he expresses the value of depositing his own love for music into his children.  He comments:


Saar Understanding Allah

“I think it’s very important to include my children in what I do musically because, as a child myself once I never had anyone to teach me how to play an instrument. My older sister had an electric organ that both my brother and I would play around with. But we couldn’t play a note! (Laugh) I was too shy in school to ask any of my music teachers in grade school for lessons, so I missed out on a lot. I learned to play guitar in the 7th grade, but forgotten it over time. So I started doing pause tapes in 1988. And basically it was a method of taking certain element of a song or my favorite part of a song and repeating it, sort of like how a record skips on your favorite part of a song or looping a guitar or vocal part. By doing this, it had given me an ear on how I hear music. I want my children to be able to read and write music, so that they can create masterpieces. I desire for them not to be caught up with the garbage that’s on the radio as of now. Their older brothers, though they’re aware of real music, are caught up a little into the garbage that’s out there. I want my children to be able to decipher between the two. My son gets excited when he sees me creating a song. I can see it in his eyes that he’s going to take over creatively. My daughters too.”

There is an African Proverb that says “Where there is purpose there is no failure.”  As long as we as parents, teachers and in general conscientious people continue to work to lay a strong foundation in the hearts and minds of the youth, we will continue to move closer and closer collectively towards a new of Hip Hop where Freedom, Justice and Equality will not just be the language expressed verbally in songs or in writing on canvases and walls, it will be a materialized reality through every thought and every action that we produce.  Let’s keep going to Work and, no matter what, stay the course.  Long Live the Legacy of J Dilla!

Allah (God) Willing until next time! Peace!

Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 15 years. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2009).  He currently serves as a student assistant minister to Student Minister Patrick Muhammad at Muhammad Mosque #29 in Miami, Florida.


5 thoughts on “From Detroit to Miami and Back Again: Honoring the Vision of J Dilla Through Our Commitment to the Youth

  1. Pingback: From Detroit to Miami and Back Again: Honoring the Vision of J Dilla Through Our Commitment to the Youth – By Tony Muhammad |

  2. Outstanding effort! Outstanding and very educational article. “Where there is purpose there is no failure.” Indeed. I pray you are blessed to continue spreading the truth and understanding embedded within the true hip hop culture as it relates to our communities excellence. ameen. Peace.

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