Director: Shernay LaTouche, Released February 2013
“You’re nobody, til’ somebody, kills you…” (Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death, 1997)
“I don’t want y’all to celebrate my life when I’m gone. I want y’all to celebrate my life while I’m here!” (Busta Rhymes, You Ain’t Gotta Wait Til I’m Gone, 2011)
Unfortunately it is an unwritten rule in human behaviour, as soon as somebody has passed away, we seem to appreciate them even more. While we are here, we take it for granted, and even very recently, hip hop lost another figure in the name of Tim Dog. If you were reading this review at time it was released, you will have checked your Facebook home page… half of your friends list are posting Tim Dog videos that they wouldn’t have a day earlier. Check your twitter, RIPTimDog trending worldwide. You are probably guilty of it yourself. We have all done it, and in the words of Puff Daddy, “..and we won’t stop now…”
Staying on the subject, since that heartbreaking moment in hip hop on February 10, 2006, February has become a season of celebration, almost up there with Black History Month and Valentines Day. Hip Hop Heads around the world appreciate the great producer James Dewitt Yancey (a.k.a. J Dilla) and ‘Turn It Up’, as it were, year after year tribute jams are held, and the consumption of Donuts are increased, and I’m not talking about Dilla’s album. This is what this documentary is about. Not necessarily talking about Dilla’s life and how he got into the music and how he changed people’s lives, but rather how he has affected fans, artists, and DJs after he returned to the essence.
The View From The Other Side is a 47-minute journey through UK and parts of Europe in the eyes of director Shernay LaTouche that was three years in the making as she allows artists and DJs such as Mr. Thing, Saneyes, and Willey Sunshine tell their stories, favourite Dilla moments and the legacy that was left behind. She has done a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the different cities and how people celebrate Dilla’s life, unfortunately she didn’t give a narrative story to complement the scenes and tell the story to the audience., and so it makes for a show that may have viewers lost in the questions that were asked in the interviews she conducted , even though based on the answers and stories given by the artists it is not hard to figure out what was asked. The interview scenes were edited and chopped up over the program, but it needed something to separate the chapters, even if LaTouche decided not to go with the narration, she could have done so by using visual text.
LaTouche does include nice touches such as including subtitles to the artists she interviewed that don’t speak English, and a scene going into a factory where unofficial J Dilla T-shirt designs were created. The artists were generally on the same page by saying there will NEVER be another J Dilla, one of them did name Black Milk, a super producer from Detroit who has grown up on Dilla’s influence and has been compared to him. Black Milk has made it very clear that he can never be like him and doesn’t want to be compared to as such, and rightfully so. The media are so quick to compare a new artist to a legend and make the unknowing follow that mindlessly, for example, they would say that Justin Timberlake is the next Michael Jackson, and people would believe it. While it may seem flattering to Justin, he just wants to prove himself as an artist and be his own person. What was also said did raise my eyebrow out of interest when the people spoke of the Dilla beats that Raekwon and Ghostface Killah chose for their albums (Fishscale and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II respectively), and had Dilla be alive how would it have changed or remastered. It is a frightening thought to be fair, knowing that those tracks were among the best tracks on those albums.
The feature ends with a heartfelt, perhaps unreleased Dilla beat, it had me boppin my head smoothly, showing another example that no matter how much of a J Dilla fan you are, you could be a purist and know every Dilla track inside out, there are always hidden gems that have not been discovered yet. Busta Rhymes for example is reportedly sitting on a goldmine of Dilla beats, yet due to musical politics and his current position now, he cannot use those beats for his projects. Stupid I know. I had always thought that you could use any producer for your album as long as you were the executive producer, no matter your record label. I suppose that’s the only thing I learnt, because this documentary will not give any J Dilla fans anything to learn from really. It might cover ground for those who don’t know who J Dilla is and want to understand why heads pay so much respect to one who never wanted to be in the public eye unlike say Dr. Dre, Swizz Beatz, Timberland, those sort of guys, but for everyone else, it is just an insight to how other European countries celebrate Dilla. This is probably what LaTouche had in mind, But don’t expect a history lesson here. It would also have been nice if LaTouche actually managed to interview some established artists over this side of the pond as well, but it is a good effort from a young director/producer who has travelled Europe over the last few years to make this happen and for that you got to respect that at least.
“Watching him press those pads, and I was just like – yo, you’re not one of us. You’re sitting there in your disguise and your glasses, knowing that you’re way better than all of us, you are…you’re Clark Kent…” (?uestLove of The Roots, talking about J Dilla)