Ten years ago today, J Dilla celebrated his 32nd birthday by releasing Donuts, an album produced entirely from his hospital bed. Three days later, he died.
He and a few other tragically early losses in the hip-hop world, plus those in our families, inspired the last radio show I hosted. When I was home in California for the holidays, I signed up to sub a Christmas Eve slot on KDVS, and it felt a fitting hour to honor those no longer celebrating and creating.
In this episode, you’ll hear tributes to J Dilla, Nujabes, and Gang Starr, a song for our mother, a song for your father, and more.
For New Year’s Eve, my party-planning brother collaborated with the Folsom Street Foundry, a soon-to-be brewery in San Francisco, for a night featuring Berlin-style ping-pong, skeeball, a really great Talking Heads cover band, and a few DJs spinning music that influenced and took influence from the Talking Heads. He asked me to fill the “African party music” slot.
I went on first so there weren’t many people there to dance, and my family missed my whole set. But I uploaded it, and now you can dance at home!
One of my earliest vivid memories is riding in the backseat of my family’s apple green 1979 Volvo 240 on the way to Vancouver, B.C., with my brother, interviewing all our stuffed animals on a Fisher Price tape recorder just like this.
We probably filled up several “Now record your own!” B-sides of Mercer Mayer storybook cassettes, but only one is left in my possession. It’s titled “Way Up High Songs” and includes a decade’s worth of our cousins singing silly songs.
I’ll spare you my rendition of the Oscar Mayer Wiener song, but my brother Allan has given permission to share the first and title track. It was recorded circa 1986, when I was just a baby and he was 5, apparently during a dinner party.
I asked him once why it sounds like he got attacked by a pterodactyl at 0:07, but he couldn’t remember.
Lyrics in case you want to follow along:
A year ago today (the 22nd, really), we had a big family gathering at my house. Continuing the tradition of cassette recordings of all the kids in my family, I had my youngest cousin, Taylor, record a news broadcast.
It was my first time using the Califone cassette recorder, and I discovered it doesn’t sound very good with the internal mic. But she recorded 11 episodes plus a sponsorship, and we had fun doing it. She wore my reporter’s fedora and used the Channel 6 microphone I crafted for my April O’Neil Halloween costume.
Here is the episode where she interviews my brother:
(Recorded over a Chick Corea mixtape)
I tried to find an audio recording of my mom for a Mother’s Day post, but the only thing I can really think of is our answering machine. Instead, here are a couple of videos my brother Allan made:
This is my mom’s explanation of how she went from studying art to being a cartographer (although when mapmaking meant learning AutoCAD, she turned back to art). I’ve always said I have maps in my blood because my parents met in the geography graduate program at San Francisco State.
Allan and our cousin Jojo wrote this song, and Allan compiled this video many years later after a cross-country trip. It ends with my mom looking like the giant she was, even at 5’2″.