Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Tribute to DJ Dusk

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, July 01, 2007)

Last week I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist do their thing with 7" records. I posted a short review of the concert in last week's blog. But before the show, I was taken by surprise when they announced that the concert was being performed in the memory of the late DJ Dusk. That bit of news actually made the concert a bittersweet affair for me.

I knew Dusk for a short time about a decade ago. I was the floor manager at the Rhino Records store in Westwood at the time. We needed help and in answer to our help-wanted ad, this young, good-looking kid came in and applied for the job. My initial reaction was that here was another street kid who knew little about real music, but wanted one of those cushy record store jobs. But just 30 seconds into our interview and all those first, false impressions were thrown out the door. This kid really knew his stuff. Of course, he still had a lot to learn, but for a kid his age, I was surprised what he knew and understood already.

So I hired him and for the year or so he was at the store, he was one of the best employees I'd ever hired or worked with in my 25 years in various record stores.

At this time, I believe Dusk had only just turned twenty-one. He was born Tarek Habib Captan in Liberia in 1974. His father was Lebanese and his mother was German/Irish. At an early age, the family moved to California, where they settled in northern Orange County, in the city of La Habra. I used to joke with him that although he was a white kid; he was the one true African-American that I knew.

His parents were very supportive of his musical interests and before he was even in his teens, he already had a set of turntables and a mixer and was beginning a significant record collection. In high school, he helped form a group called Visions Of Brotherhood (V.O.B.) that tried to promote racial tolerance through hip-hop. And by the time he was 18, he already had his own mobile DJ company called Dusk Till Dawn. He was also a mentor at the Mar Vista Youth Center, where he worked with hundreds of young people.

I was amazed that this kid had already done so much with his life. It actually made me feel a little bit guilty. The most I'd ever done is walk in a few protest marches and I single handedly stopped a greased pig contest at my high school in the late 60s. (Which at least taught me that one person actually can make a difference if you keep at it.)

Dusk was also very interested in my musical tastes. I was very into early 70s prog-rock and late 70s punk rock, and I made sure to play a lot of it for him. I was always very happy when something I played for him clicked and he would pick up that record to add to his collection. Nothing thrills me more than a musically open mind. And of course, in exchange, he turned me on to a whole slew of hip-hop, salsa and house music that I had little idea about before I met him.

He left Rhino to go to college and although we promised to stay in touch, it didn't last long and we lost track of each other, as these things tend to happen. Every now and then, I'd see his name pop up on a flyer or ad in the "LA Weekly" and I'd think to myself that I should go check him out and see what he was doing. But I never did and I'm regretting it now. The kid had quite an effect on me, as I knew he would make something good of himself, and friends of mine heard me mention him every now and then. (I especially like to tell the "true African-American" tale).

So now I hear at a concert that he had passed away and I had to go online to find out what had become of him.

After he left Rhino, he went to UC Santa Cruz and then transferred to UCLA, where he graduated with a degree of sociology. While at UCLA, he met Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist and together they organized the first national hip-hop conference. He also taught a UCLA Extension course called "The DJ as the Post-Modern Musician". (Man, I wish I could have sat in on that.) He also took up photography and had his photos and writings published in such magazines as "Urb". And on top of all that, he hosted a number of radio shows. Through all this, he also kept mentoring at Mar Vista.

In 1994, he fell under the wing of the late, great DJ Rob One, who introduced him to Afrika Bambaataa's Universal Zulu Nation, and it was all up hill from there. In 1997, he was asked to join the Root Down; a group that had nurtured such great, West-coast hip-hop acts as Dilated Peoples, Black-Eyed Peas, and Breakestra. He released two internationally praised mix-CDs, "Top Ranking Vol. 1" (http://www.mobileunderground.com/djdusk/) and "La Musica". He was beginning to travel, playing at the Root Down club in New York. In a sad bit of irony, he aired a tribute mix to recently passed J Dilla on KCRW and BBC just a few weeks before he himself was killed. He was truly on the brink of hip-hop stardom.

But on April 29th of this year, he left a family party where he had been spinning records. He was walking his girlfriend to her car, when another car sped towards them. Dusk pushed her out of the way. She was still hit by a deflecting blow, but Dusk took the full blunt of it. He died on impact.

The driver tried to keep going, but another car pulled in front of him to keep him from leaving. Several eyewitnesses pulled the driver out of the car and beat him up. He was very drunk.

In an interview, Dusk's girlfriend later said, "The last night of his life had been spent with his close friends and family. He was very happy; it had been a blessed night of dancing and laughing."

After his funeral, which was attended by over 500 people, his good friend and Root Down co-founder, Carlos "Loslito" Guaico said, "Dusk was always about family. When Jurassic 5, Breakestra, Rebirth, Cut Chemist, or any local homey would travel the world, Dusk would always say, 'Go handle it and let the world know about L.A. I'll be here, holding L.A. down.' He's now world famous because he held L.A. down so strong."

Dusk was only in my life a short time, but as I said above, he left quite an impression on me in that time. It saddens me that we will never hear what he might have done. And it saddens me that I never took the time to renew my acquaintance with him and watch as he made his impact on the music world. I'm glad he died happy, with friends and family. But while any unnecessary death makes me sad, it's really devastating when it's someone who has left such a mark on so many people. I haven't seen Dusk for a decade. And I'll still miss him.

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