Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Suite for Ma Dukes: J Dilla Interpreted

My very first impression of “Timeless: Suite for Ma Dukes” was, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Someone has taken these already original, authentic, and memorable hip hop songs and elevated them to an even higher place.”

Composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has transformed these tunes by legendary hip hop producer J Dilla and turned them into something eloquent, grand, and moving – at times, overwhelmingly so. Anytime I get goose pimples and I can feel my blood rushing under my skin – I know the creative piece, whether it’s theater, film, dance, writing, or music is doing its job. It’s making me feel something. In the case of “Suite for Ma Dukes,” it’s making me happy, elated, joyous and inspired.

And who is Ma Dukes? She’s the mother of James Dewitt Yancey, aka, J Dilla, one of the most respected and prolific hip hop producers who has lived. Born in Detroit in 1973, Dilla played the cello and brought his musically trained sensibilities and broad knowledge of many musical genres to his work as a hip hop producer.

In February 2009, Atwood-Ferguson and his orchestra paid tribute to Dilla’s music-making genius by playing adaptations of some of his compositions, in addition to a couple of classical numbers that have inspired Dilla.

Atwood-Ferguson’s interpretations of Dilla’s music in “Suite for Ma Dukes” takes the producerss music and the potential that hip hop has had for decades, and shows us where this thing could go, if the right people get a hold of it.

With his longstanding romance with the violin (he started playing the instrument at age 4), and his degree in Viola Performance from USC, Atwood-Ferguson brings a love of classical styles and hip hop to this recording. Watch his broad sweeps and passionate gestures in the video of his orchestra’s performance of the Slum Village's song “Hoc N Pucky” below.

Atwood-Ferguson’s version of “Hoc N Pucky” goes from playful to elegant, grand, and then the orchestra just turns it into a tremendous blend of competing rhythms that break down into something that’s funky and classy at the same time. This happens with all the Dilla numbers at this concert, with Dilla’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, present, in addition to many renowned musicians including Bilal, Talib Kweli, Dwele, and others who also performed. Many in the audience were reported to be in tears throughout the show.

"It was a magical night," Atwood-Ferguson was quoted as saying in London’s The Guardian. "In an age when hip-hop music is so frowned upon, an event like this one was just a little indicator that, in fact, it deserves profound respect and is just as valid as any other art form.”

February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006 James Dewitt Yancey (J Dilla)

Compare Atwood-Ferguson's version of "Hoc N Pucky" to Dilla's group Slum Village's version:

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