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J Dilla 101?

in rehearsal
in rehearsal

J Dilla Ensemble rehearsal

That’s right there is such a thing! Berklee College of Music has a new addition to its ensemble curriculum. It’s a class celebrating all things Dilla and it may have one of the coolest professors academia has ever seen. Former Berklee student, now teacher, Raydar Ellis started the J Dilla Ensemble last fall when he convinced the head of the department that if they trusted him to design the class of his choice they wouldn’t be sorry. Raydar kept his word by constructing the Dilla Ensemble and holding a recital at the end of the year that was swarming with not only students, but the general public and media galore. The special guest of the event was Mrs. Yancey aka MaDukes, Dilla’s mother, she was in the audience donning an “I (heart) Dilla” tee-shirt and beaming with pride.


Ok enough of the general speak… I was there, I was a part of it, and I will never forget it. It all started when a friend of mine in Chicago (shot out Tish) told me that a friend of hers from NYC was a teacher at Berklee. I am Berklee alum so naturally I was excited to hear about him. She went on to say that he started the J Dilla Ensemble and that they were having a recital in May. About a week later DJ Houseshoes, in town for an event, invited my fiancé and I to a BBQ at the Yancey’s home. I spent the evening talking to MaDukes and before I left I said “Oh yeah, a friend of mine started a Dilla Ensemble at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They’re having a recital in May you wanna go?” she was all too excited and I set the wheels in motion. I called Tish, who called Raydar, and on a three-way conversation I told him that MaDukes wanted to be come. After convincing him that I wasn’t joking, and he wasn’t dreaming, lol he was ecstatic. I thought we could get the school to possibly sponsor her trip, and after a lot of phone calls and proposal writing (thanks J. Hayes) the chips fell through on that idea. So with pure delight and gratitude Raydar happily paid all of MaDukes expenses to make the trip. I thought well if he can man up and do it, so can I … (so to speak) I paid my way out of pocket also. Between Raydar, myself, and the Boston Hip-Hop Alliance (props to Darcie) we sent out press releases, set up meet and greets and radio interviews, and made sure all of Boston knew this event was the place to be.

Mrs. Yancey and I traveled to Boston, our first stop was at the Ensemble’s rehearsal the night before the performance. We walked into the rehearsal room and the look on all of the student’s faces was priceless. Although the students sounded amazing already, they all volunteered to rehearse an extra hour after scheduled to make sure MaDukes would be proud of the recital the next day. Raydar, I and MaDukes then rushed over to the local radio station where Dilla fans were awaiting in the studio and on the lines eager to hear from their hero’s mother.


The day of the recital was magical it was one of those days where everything went right (think this) I saw a Boston Phoenix article that read:

“Sporting an “I ♥ Dilla” T, Ma Dukes smiled through the whole set. Her sweet and flattered affect was a portrait in motherly pride. Marinating in her son’s rhythm might not compare with holding him tight, but it’s clear that Ma Dukes connects through hi-hats, bass lines, and horn smoke.

I smile-cried through much of this. Between witnessing tender intricacies from Dilla’s gems materialize and watching Ma Dukes glow, I found the show to be at moments overwhelming — especially during the Tribe medley and the gloriously smooth rendition of the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’.”

I have to whole heartedly agree it was a bit of a spiritual experience. When the recital ended MaDukes did an intimate meet and greet and Q&A session with the students and guests. *Highlight of the night, as she was talking her phone rang with a loud booming Busta Ryhmes ringtone, to which she hurriedly switched it off and said in the softest, sweetest motherly voice “Opps sorry guys, how embarrassing… but Busta is my boy!”


The Dilla Ensemble is working on it’s recital for next year and rest assured you won’t want to miss it, there’s talks of Common, Badu, Mos Def, ?uestlove and more!


Enjoy this video  of the performance!

For more info:



  • Indigo Zuri - Detroit Men's Style Examiner 5 years ago

    What a great story! I love and miss Dilla dearly. How fortunate you were to be able to share such a wonderful experience with Ma Dukes. Definitely a story worth putting in the book of memoirs. (Do folks do that anymore?) I want to be there next year. Do tell the date?

  • Tish Newton 5 years ago

    I'm so glad everything came together so well. I'm extremely glad to be a part of it.

  • Khem Na'khi 5 years ago

    Wow Mrs. Parker, you're everywhere! First you're in Atlanta and next you're in Boston. I want to travel. I inspire you to write, you inspire me to get up and explore the world. Good looks on the article. I didn't know about the Dilla ensemble. I'm a fan of JD. Good looks on the video as well. Once again I missed a timeless performance. First Daniel, now this. Keep the articles coming sis. Peace.

  • Sean Doe 5 years ago

    This is AMAZING !!! BiG ups all who made this possible !!!

  • Big Tone 5 years ago

    Great piece, Ms Parker!!! Always great to see Jay's music still Shining!!!

  • P.S. 5 years ago

    I would like a list of all JDilla songs. I just missed the hip hop boat on JDilla. Sounds like you had a good time making history. The Dilla ensemble, there is some sort of movement brewing in our age group. That involves Hip Hop and computers.

  • jesse 5 years ago

    the idea of being there at the recital is simply amazing..thank u for giving us the inside scoop, it brings a whole nother light on the project..thank u...ans cant wait to see and especially hear more!!!!!