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.
Ten years ago on this night, I walked into a UC Davis lecture hall, and my life changed forever. No, I didn’t find a new favorite author or a new major—nothing that would go on my transcript. I discovered a whole new world of underground music and community media. It was my first KDVS volunteer class.
Over the seven years I DJ’ed, three years I served on staff, and ten years I’ve volunteered (in various capacities, to varying degrees), I learned so much about belonging to and being an active part of a community. KDVS was my home base in college, where I knew there would always be friendly faces, good tunes, and a comfy couch. Even when I visit now, surrounded by much younger DJs, I still feel like this is where I belong—the same feeling I had when I got my first hip-hop lecture and station tour on December 15, 2004.
Since my last love letter to KDVS, I moved across the country for a job that I couldn’t have gotten, wouldn’t have even known about, without the enriching, invigorating, (sometimes enraging) experiences I had in 14 Lower Freeborn Hall.
To celebrate, and to shake off some of the impending winter doldrums, here is my first daytime radio show from the beginning of summer 2006.
Punk rock icon Ian MacKaye comes through our office every few months, since he’s old friends with our archivist Jeff Place and working on archival projects of his own. The first time I saw him, two summers ago, I remember hearing that next time he was going to bring his buddy, fellow punk rock icon Henry Rollins.
Today he followed through, stopping by before Rollins gave a talk on the D.C. punk scene at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
I told him I like his radio show, which was a highlight of being stuck in Saturday-evening Los Angeles traffic. But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve consciously listened to Black Flag until tonight. I didn’t tell him that when I asked to record a station ID for KDVS.
So, where should I start? Recommend an album to me!
The 75-year-old South African jazz artist made the rounds at a few Smithsonian locations, concluding with an interview in our office at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He talked about social justice and sustaining cultural heritage through music, with representatives from the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Howard University, WPFW and more.
He was explaining something about how historically Europe has preserved its arts much more thoroughly than Africa has. Offhandedly he said, “I was kicked out of an opera once,” the first opera he ever saw. I started recording.
He’s a sweet, funny guy. He gave everyone in the office hugs instead of shaking hands. And he also gave me a KDVS station ID!
In the winter of 2005, I was a freshman at UC Davis, a new volunteer at KDVS, and a night owl. Because my dorm roommate always went to sleep much earlier than I did, I created a Fortress of Solitude underneath my partially lofted bed, complete with futon, stereo, party lights, and a blanket big enough to hang down from my bed like a curtain and close myself in.
In the middle of one crazy day — wherein I overslept because Rob Roy was playing metal on the radio and it made me so upset that I turned it off and forgot to wake up, almost got hit by a semi truck riding my bike, missed two classes and an oral presentation, and was forced to get a shot for the first time in like 15 years — I bought some blank cassettes and made this mixtape.
This is all the kind of stuff I was listening to at age 18. It was all on the fly, since I wanted to practice sequencing songs for my future radio show. I called it “Analog Oatmeal” referencing something John McCrea from Cake said at a concert: “There are a lot of good things in life, and there are a lot of bad things. And they’re all stirred up into a confusing, oatmeal-like mixture.”
Note: This recreation of the mix is missing “Time Is Now” by The Hi-Fives after Tori Amos, “Real Love” by John Lennon after Ani DiFranco, and “Black Sand Beach” by Mr. T Experience after Green Day because Grooveshark didn’t have them. Sorry! I gave the original away!
After spending the summer as an intern at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington, D.C., my No. 1 goal for my trip home to California in the fall was to sub a radio show at KDVS. I wanted to share all my Folkways favorites, all the new music I had learned about.
While Folkways is best known for its collection of American folk music (i.e. Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie), I was introduced to it at KDVS as an incredible source for regional folk music from all over the world. In this show I focused mostly on Africa, Asia and South America.
When I was a junior in high school, I took AP biology. During a lesson about vestigial organs, our teacher explained that whales have vestigial hip bones, indicating that early whales had legs. I immediately doodled a variation of the image above, and then immediately realized that I had doodled the exact same image two years prior in regular biology with the same teacher.
Since then, the whale with legs has made many appearances: on the wall of KDVS’ Studio A, the ceiling of Studio C, museum guestbooks, and dozens of sugar packets in restaurants all over the country.
Now he’s starring in my new animated short, “Land Whale”!