Synopsis: In the gritty, coming-of-age film, directed by Sheldon Candis, an 11-year-old boy gets a crash course in what it means to be a man when he spends a day with the ex-convict uncle he idolizes.
Starring: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton and Meagan Good
The following is a letter written to J Dilla from Common, as published in Common’s book, One Day It’ll All Make Sense. As I read this letter for the first time, which was only a few days ago during school, I felt myself holding back tears. I wanted to type it up and post it here to give other Dilla lovers the chance to see and appreciate it. Hopefully it touches some of you the way it touched me.
Dear Jay Dee,
What’s up, Chief? Man, I gotta say that I miss you so much. I still call the place we shared in LA my home. Some days I drive up and be like, “Jay Dee used to drive though this driveway. Jay used to be up in our front room right here on the couch.” Some days I see a lighter or some other small thing that was yours—traces that bring me back to your presence.
Sometimes I’ll turn the corner down the hall and expect to see you there. I see you after I invited you to move out with me to Los Angeles from Detroit, before the illness had taken its toll. You’d be jumping from one place to another, making a beat in the living room, body bent low, headphones cupped to your ears. “What you cooking up?” I’d ask. Sometimes you’d play me a taste of the groove, what we used to call that hump. Sometimes you’d just give me a look that said, “Man, don’t bother me while I’m in a zone.”
Now and then, I’ll see visions of you after the disease had stripped away your strength. I see your narrowed shoulders and withered arms, your wheelchair sliding across the hardwood floor. I see you after your mother arrived to stay with us, caring for you around the clock. Sometimes I’d come in from a late night out, buzzed off the bright lights and the liquor, to find you on the couch with your head in her lap, a child once more in his mother’s arms.
There are still parts of the house I have a hard time visiting. I almost never open that closet where all your records are because when I do I get sad and down. I try not to let it get to me, but all I’m doing is hiding from my feelings. Man, I do feel your loss at some times more than others. To me those records are something sacred. I don’t know if it’s right to touch them. So I keep them there as a kind of makeshift monument to your memory.
You were my brother. Beyond music. I felt like my soul knew your soul from sometime before and music was just one way we expressed that connection. From the first time you flew to Chicago on your own dollar and laid down those beats for me, I was like, “This is my guy.” I think about being in your basement and going to Korean BBQ or going to see The Matrix and creating music. I really began to appreciate Detroit, too. Some of them thick girls y’all had out there…Man! Those were some of the most fun days of my life. It was just a beautiful time.
I think about your family. Your mother and your daughter. One of the hardest things in my life was seeing you sick and watching you go through the pain you did. It was really, really hard for me, so I can’t even fathom how hard it was for you. I kept telling myself, truly believing, that you were going to get better. It hurt me to see you suffering, seeing your body deteriorate. It brought the fear out of me.
Part of my fear, I have to admit, was in doubting my own invincibility. Seeing someone so close to me dying, it forced me to confront my own human frailty. It’s funny how James and Ahmir and them would call you “The God.” Because we all looked at you and knew you were this special human being, this Divine Gift. You were a divine gift in the creativity and genius, and now that you’re not here in the flesh, the world is missing a true spirit. I feel like music would be different if you were still alive; after all, you’ve affected so much of it even after death. You influenced so many. You kept growing so much—there was something new and soulful in every “batch” you cooked up.
I heard Rob Glasper and Derrick Hodge playing your music with a jazz combo, and I thought to myself, “Dilla was our Coltrane. He was our Miles. This dude was a classic in the truest sense.” When I hear orchestras playing your stuff, I know that the music you made was timeless.
It hurts to think we can’t get any more music from you. It’s really painful. Some of my most joyful times were knowing I was getting a Jay Dee beat CD. When your mom would call and say, “It’s on the way,” or she would say, “Hey, can you come work on Tuesday and Wednesday,” it felt like Christmas morning. When I think of you, I think of how much I love music. I love music. I love you, brother.
I hope and pray that your soul is at peace. I have dreamed of you many times, and sometimes I feel like you are all right, and sometimes I feel like you feel cheated, left behind. I know that as a fan, a comrade, a creative partner with you, I sometimes feel cheated. But there are also parts of me that know I must appreciate all that you gave us in your thirty-two years on this earth. You left your mark. You left an incredible imprint on our souls and on the music. I just want your soul to be at peace.
I used to have a hard time coming home and seeing you sick. The way you were, I felt guilty that I could walk in the door on my own, that I was healthy, and that I was embarking upon new dreams. I know you were happy for me and proud of me, but sometimes I could see a little bit of sadness in your eyes—like you realized just what was slipping from your grasp. I watched you fading away, but my heart is always on your side. My soul will always show love to yours and recognize your spirit as my brother. You are the greatest, you are timeless.
Synopsis: An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore.