Questions & Answers With Dee Phunk


Im pressed for time, so no super fancy intro here. I go back with Dee Phunk and Rare Form some time now. They throw a dope annual Dilla party in New York called Donuts Are Forever. The 8th edition is this Sunday, Torae is hosting, DJ Jazzy Jeff is spinning, all good people. The flyer is at the bottom of our conversation. Get familiar.

P.S. Proceeds from the party go to help kids in East New York, a part of Brooklyn I’ve never been to because I hear said kids being helped or a close relative could be prone to violence. But I digress. Read below to learn about the party and my dude’s Dilla fandom.

From my understanding New York’s party scene has changed drastically. Tell me about New York nightlife in 2014 and where Rare Form fits in.

Nightlife is definitely different. There’s still a scene, Rare Form started 10 years ago there were a lot more clubs and the city was a lot more lenient. Since then the government here has been very stingy about who they give cabaret liquor licenses to, a lot of places don’t really last long and they get scrutinized by the government. There are clubs in the city still but the majority of them are very high profile and there’s a shift now where a lot of places are actually opening up in Brooklyn.

I live in Williamsburg, a lot of places are opening up here and in Greenpoint around industrial areas, places that are away from residential areas where they can make noise without bothering anybody. Transplants are moving in, they complain about noise. Bars, restaurants and clubs cant really live like that. So it’s become a very different scene and throwing parties is still a challenge where you have to know people and pitch what your ideas are. If you stick with it, you can do it. I don’t do it full time, I still have a full time job but it’s still a good thing to do on the side for sure.

What would you say are some keys to throwing a good party?

Number one you should really have a good base of close friends and family, that will help you get started off. Rare Form was very lucky in that when we started we had friends from all over the country, and we just started throwing the types of events that we would like to go to. It’s important to have friends that can help you get the word out, a big social media presence is very helpful these days. Getting people out the door and to your party is half the battle, and you have to have an angle that will get them there. As long as you have a fan base that will help you out and there’s a good angle, if it’s something people want to come to they’ll come.

Take me back to the beginning with Donuts Are Forever. How did the party start?

Rare Form is four of us, me and my partners Tara, Kristy and Eric. We were all very much music heads and the year after Dilla passed it was just a very matter of fact thing where we were talking one night and we said “Hey, maybe we should do a tribute to him”.  We knew there was enough music to fill up a 6 hour party from  10 PM to 4 AM, we didn’t know the magnitude of how many people would come but we knew there was an audience.

We actually went to a smaller Dilla tribute in the city and we said “We can do this too”. We had a mailing list for the parties we had been doing already, we put it together and we were very overwhelmed by the number of people that came. We didn’t realize how much of a reach Dilla had, people came up from Philly and it was a good problem to have where people couldn’t get in, there was a line around the block that night in February. It was a simple idea, it was something we would go to even if we didn’t throw it. We were lucky enough to have DJ Scratch headline the first one with DJ Soul and the rest was history where we decided to do this every year.

What were some of your earliest memories of hearing Dilla’s music?

I never got to see him live unfortunately. The first time I was cognizant of his work was the Office Space soundtrack, “Get Dis Money” was on there which was kind of random, but the song was very much my style of music with the drums and the soul behind it. Then I realized that I already knew his work from Beats, Rhymes and Life and I just didn’t realize it was him. I actually love that album and a lot of people don’t or they love it and don’t think it’s the strongest work from A Tribe Called Quest. I didn’t realize he worked on that album until I went back and looked at the liner notes.

My fondest memories of his music are being up all night on AudioGalaxy and Napster looking up all of his stuff. That’s where I found all of these remixes and I just went down the rabbit hole and fell in love with his music even more, no pun intended.

What was it about his music that made you such a big fan?

It was really the soul aspect of it. He was very good at doing soul production, I love all of the Hip Hop, but things like his work for Toshi Kubota, Nine Yards, Rhian Benson and Four Tet showed he was really good at remixing R&B songs. That’s what made me a big fan, all of his soul remixes made his snares stick in my head.

Who would you say Dilla had the greatest chemistry with and why? 

I would say he had the most chemistry with Slum Village, they defined Detroit’s underground as far as I’m concerned. They blazed a path where they didn’t sound like anyone else in their city at the time. When people speak of the Detroit sound, they helped build that. I’m sure it was very organic where they were kids who were messing around, but they built something that cant be duplicated.

If you could name five Dilla records you love, what would they be? 

My favorite Dilla beat would be “2U4U” by Slum Village. Phat Kat’s “Cold Steel” with Elzhi was one of his best Hip Hop beats, he was very versatile where he could go from the smooth stuff to a more hardcore sound and that beat is really crazy. The Nine Yards “Find A Way” remix was the one song where his versatility blew me away. We listened to A Tribe Called Quest and Slum, but I remember when I first found that song online I played it over and over.

If you’ve ever been to a Donuts Are Forever party, for some reason when Common’s “The Light” comes on there’s a religious aspect to it. Everybody kind of catches the holy ghost, I don’t know why that is but everyone is singing in unison and it’s a very spiritual song. Also I’ll say “Wild”, that’s one that came later on and it showcases his emceeing pretty well. People don’t take for granted that he rapped, but he was actually a very dope emcee and it’s hard to find people that can do both well.

What have been some of the greatest memories of the party so far?

One of the best memories so far was the fourth one when ?uestlove DJ’d it. He took a nerdy approach, he has all of these resources available to him working at the NBC Studios with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon, leading up to the event they remade a bunch of Dilla beats. Instead of playing a regular set, he played a bunch of their remakes. He actually did that for the party, that was one of the craziest ones we’ve done.

The second one with House Shoes, he’s the ambassador for all things Dilla. He keeps the legacy alive and holds the torch, he’s done a very good job of that. The fifth one at Santos was where we had the most people stop through to hang out. Rich Medina and DJ Spinna spun it, Ali Shaheed Muhammad came through to hang out, Robert Glasper, Illa J and Juju from The Beatnuts were there. Over the years the vibe is still there and people are flying in from out of town for this. It’s crazy, hopefully we can make more memories.

What would you say has been the key to the party getting bigger and bigger?

It’s basically word of mouth and supporters, that’s really it. We don’t have a crazy press machine behind us, there’s four of us with Kristy doing our PR and Okayplayer has been involved for the past two years. We get the word out but we don’t have the news or the media behind us to push this. The people who come back every year and make this a destination for them, that’s what keeps this going. It’s just a love for Dilla’s music. We can’t do it without his fans or we would have stopped doing it already, we appreciate the undying support.

Speaking of fans, a lot of people feel a way about new fans jumping on the bandwagon after Dilla passed on. How would you say the party bridges the gap between new and older fans?

We don’t discriminate as far as whether you’re an old or new fan. I know people who have come to our party not knowing a thing about Dilla and they’ll recognize a Janet Jackson song or Q-Tip’s “Vivrant Thing”, and then they hear the other stuff they don’t know in the same context. I was one of those guys that didn’t like people who were on the bandwagon after he passed away.

From doing this party I realized we do it not just for the fans, but to put people on that might not know about him. I know people that have went and bought his music after a party or they went and bought a Common album just to hear more of his work. I like the fact that this party can be an educational tool as well, it’s all good music. Whether you’re new or old, it’s absolutely fine at the party. As long as you do your research and go back, it’s all good.

If you could pick another artist to do a whole tribute party for, who would it be and why?

I’d do one for The Neptunes, they were game changing producers and they’re still producing now. They’ve done many things in many different genres.

What would you say is the ultimate vision for Rare Form and Donuts Are Forever?

We actually were just talking about this recently. I don’t know how many more years we have in us, we hope to keep going but the fans dictate how far we go. People are still coming out for it and we still have a lot of people on our bucket list to DJ it. If it’s ever possible, our goal would be to take this internationally and tour with it.

Other cities do their own Dilla events, Detroit has Dilla Day, LA, Philly and DC have events and that’s great, we support them 100 percent. But there are main cities that don’t have the resources and people in these cities don’t have the means to get it mobilized, so we would love to take this party to other cities and countries. His music is worldwide and we’d love to take this all over the place, it takes money and sponsorships, which we haven’t really had over the years. It’s a very homegrown grassroots event and it still is, now eight years strong. As long as people will keep coming to it, we’ll love to keep doing it and we’ll try to make it grow.


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