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This year marks J Dilla’s 50th birthday, and his spirit is alive now more than ever.

Revered as one of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all time, J Dilla exploded onto the Detroit rap scene as a member of Slum Village, creating his own unique style that went on to influence the next generation of producers that came after him. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at age 32, as the result of a combination of TTP and lupus.

Insert J Dilla’s mom, Ma Dukes, who’s discovered her true purpose thanks to her late son. She started the J Dilla foundation a month after her son passed, with a mission of uplifting the youth and encouraging their interest in education through music and the arts.

The Source spoke with Ma Dukes at Dilla Day L.A. in downtown Los Angeles to discuss what she misses most, and what it was like seeing Dilla’s first music video.

What does it mean to be celebrating Dilla Day 2024? 

Oh my gosh, it’s so awesome. I celebrate everyday, talk to him still. Think about him throughout my journey because if it wasn’t for him, I would not have purpose. My life is lived through purpose, I’m excited and happy about it everyday. Especially this year, because he turned 50 years old. It’s phenomenal. The world is growing, and it’s picking up more and more fans along the way. And getting younger and younger. 

The fact they’re getting younger and younger, we have parents that are beginning to listen more to their children. Whenever I go out and speak to parents, or creatives I call them, because children are especially genius. Young people of all ages, they have something they want to share with the world. They know it’s unique, and they’re different than most of the people they’re around. They don’t know how to share it, they don’t want to upset the parent. Most youth want their parents to be proud of what they do. A lot of times, it’s not their passion that the parents are talking about. “I want them to be this or that.”

Parents need to remember that when their quiet time is there, the thing you want more than how much money they can make is that they’d be happy. A lot of people make a tremendous amount of money, but they’ve never found happiness. Because they didn’t touch the passion that they grew with, that they dreamed about but never talked about it. Our parents don’t know until their children venture into something and have a taste of something to share with people. Creatives have no ceiling, they’re not afraid to tap into something new. They don’t have to keep with the norm, because they already visualized something else. 

So you have to give them a chance. It’s wonderful, and I’ve made so many many friends. Parent friends, because I’ve touched their youth and talked to them. I leave myself open that they can reach out to me no matter what time. Day and night, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. They know I’ma hit you back. We’re going to talk about what it is, how you want to approach it. Does your mom know? I’ve reached out to some parents, I’ve been very successful with that. I have some new bestie parents. [laughs]

Dilla used to tell me “lady, you need to listen more.” I’d look at him like he’s crazy, I’m the most attentive parent I know! I was doing daycare, I had two daycares at once. I didn’t have a lot of extra time for my own children. I realized, spend time with them. We’re a very close-knit family, because we were 4. 4 people, they just band together. When you love them, you’re in a household, you share and you enjoy what you enjoy together. However minimal it is, but you begin to see the light shine toward different things. 

I knew music was his thing, he never wanted to do anything else. He’d spin records in our apartment at two years old, with adults. That let me know he was so patient. I’d be sick of it, I’d be tired. But he’d watch the people. He’d never talk. I guess through observation, he realized how much he loved music and all the Motown sounds. I attribute that to allowing you to be free enough to express themselves. I have to remember that you brought a gift into the world. Your boy comes here for a purpose, but have you looked into that? Have we paid attention to that individual, that has this special gift? Because we don’t know what it is until they display it. 

Parents have to be attentive. You didn’t just bring a children into the world to be in your arms. Gifts are made to be shared, to make the world a better place. This gift you gave to the world is something special, and we all need to embrace it and see what it’s about. 

Can you bring us back to the first time you saw his first music video? 

Oh my God, we were so excited. We didn’t see all the first music videos, but the one the whole family saw together was “McNasty Filth.” [laughs] We were sitting in a room with his dad, everybody in the family and some friends. We rolled over. He was a little embarrassed, he didn’t know we were gonna tape him. But we watched it over and over. We’re so proud. Just like a lot of parents say “how’d you feel about him going to the strip club?” I’m grateful. He passed away so young. Had it not been for that, what would have he enjoyed? That he liked? I’m grateful for every moment he had on this earth.

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A post shared by Maureen Ma Dukes Yancy (@madukesofficial)

What do you miss most about J Dilla?

His smile. He didn’t give it often. He was very very introverted. Very serious. He had no time for regular things. He was all about making things better. Even when he finished something,

He’d let you hear it like “what do you think?” They will listen to it. He said “you like that?” They said “yeah man!” He’d say “Well, I’m gonna erase it and come back with something else.” [laughs] Sure enough, he’d come back with something else, more profound. There’s something else in his head telling him: if you add this one thing, it’d be phenomenal. 

And that’s what he always wanted. He wanted to always make things better. He never wanted artists to have a peace of music that wasn’t mind-blowing. He wanted them to be happy. 

Everything that was made in that basement, was him.

Tell us about the J Dilla Foundation, I love that you started that.

Yes, I started that a month after he passed. I started it with Jae Barber, Karriem Riggins’ manager all these years. He said “I think that because you did childcare,” his mom was a childcare provider. He lived in Detroit, I didn’t know because I met him in California. He said “you should do a foundation or some type of thing to help pay it forward for him. What do you think about that?” 

I’m like what would I do? How would I do it? Not knowing all the steps, and he was with me all that time. He was the president, I was the founder. We did a lot of wonderful things together. I have to keep it going. The J Dilla Tech Grant with Save The Music Foundation will be going forever. As long as with him being in the Smithsonian, that’s phenomenal. These milestones. 

What I’m thinking is how I was poor, my children were poor and I couldn’t take them to things. I didn’t have the money. I want them to be able to come and see for free the things that will inspire you or do something for you. 

The post J Dilla’s Mom, Ma Dukes, Empowers The Youth To Follow Their Passion first appeared on The Source.

The post J Dilla’s Mom, Ma Dukes, Empowers The Youth To Follow Their Passion appeared first on The Source.

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