Now Playing: Don’t Cry – J Dilla
“But that’s just it! The entire genre of music revolves around taking countless snippets from existing songs, and merging it all to create a new, off-the-wall sound. And as if that were not impressive enough, J Dilla was doing all of it completely analog! Imagine having to compile 16 samples like piano keys, and playing them in order to create a new beat-”
Pause. My digital display reads 4:22:42 – nearly twenty-three minutes over my planned duration. The electrical tape peeling off of the high voltage cable is giving off an unpleasant hum, which fills the dead air. I quickly adjust to end the broadcast.
“Sorry everyone, I went off on a bit of tangent… As promised, tomorrow I’ll be adjusting the radio’s playlist with some new music, so make sure to tune in and hear it! Uhh… Yeah, this is Walkman signing off, see you all next time.”
I turn off the recording equipment and fall back onto my damp mattress, my spine cracking out in pain after not being able to straighten for four hours. Deep breath in, deep breath out. I blindly fumble with the electric kettle at my fingertips until it switches on, and pull out a random tea bag from the cluttered mess on the ground. I get up and wade through a minefield of vinyl records and cassette tapes, fetching a box of sugar cubes and a mug from the cupboard.
The ground shakes a bit. The sun is rising now.
I turn the crank on my amplifier, and the music being streamed live on the air fills my cramped recording booth. I take a seat near the only window and pour the boiling water into my cup, staring directly down to at least try re-moisturizing my eyes with the tea’s steam. It stings a bit. The howling sandstorm outdoors gets drowned out by the music parading its way out of my speakers – J Dilla’s Donuts.
From what I’ve managed to gather through books, cassette mixes and interviews, the album was considered his magnum opus, revolutionizing beat-making as a medium altogether. The kicker is, he recorded it all from a hospital room, where he was being treated for some disease; I don’t recall which. His usual cast of featured rappers and DJs wouldn’t be allowed in, so Dilla stitched each song together out samples from various songs. His legacy was released three days before his passing. He couldn’t have known that at the time, naturally, but he must’ve had the prospect of death on his mind, at the very least. I wonder how he felt, on the third day. Would it have been pride, to reach his peak before departing? Or frustration for, ironically, the same reason?
There’s an explosion in the distance. I put three sugar cubes in my mug and stir.
I’ve lived at this station for as long as I can remember, but it hasn’t been long since I’ve started running the actual radio. The last 20 years here have been spent combing through every vinyl, CD, cassette, MP3 and even 8-track tape, and the result was a plethora of musical knowledge with no outlet. In retrospect, I don’t think I started presenting on-air with any particular goal in mind, but it’s clear to me now what kept me around.
At the very least, the ones I presume to have – I have no way of really knowing. But the thought of someone engaging with me, even parasocially, brings me comfort. There is, probably, someone who dedicates time, interest, and emotional involvement towards me and my radio. But recently, I’ve been hesitant to call this a good reason for doing what I do.
When J Dilla passed away, did seeing his final work receive critical acclaim make him happy? Or was he overcome with frustration over the fact that he would not live to reap the benefits? His artistry oozes far too much passion for me to dismiss it as a means to an end, but my hesitancy perhaps stems from the fact that Dilla’s passion burns so much brighter than mine. I can see my face reflected in the window sometimes – mostly during tangents live on-air. And yet, my expression is never one of focus, or even visible contentedness; it’s simply… blank. Like I’m bored.
Perhaps I’m overthinking. After all, Dilla named his album Donuts just because he liked eating them. I’ll drink my tea, watch the sunrise, and try to remember in which direction the meteors are falling. Ooh, there goes a big one right there, straight into the office building.
Bleh. It’s cinnamon flavor.