Cover Story: Big Brother Beat

Allegorical spins with a dead DJ

Nov 23, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Rebel Yell: DJ Tyme was ahead of his and taught Mildred Fallen most of what she knows about early Hip Hop.

I still hear him giggling, gurgling excitement like a boy with a fistful of dimes chasing down the ice cream man. When I met Tyrone Shelton, I didn't know what to think. I was about 17 when some friends dragged me to his crib on Eden Avenue to say "Hi" and to show me his studio. They told me he hosted Hip Hop on WAIF (88.3 FM) sometimes. To me, that was next to famous.

Around 27, he seemed old. He looked wise, reminding me of Kenny from Beat Street mostly because of his receding hairline and lean build.

I called him Tyrone, but "DJ Tyme" suited him as he carried this Father Time wisdom about music that stirred a childlike curiosity in fellow appreciators.

His apartment hid under relics of show flyers, Hip Hop newsletters like The Diamond and rooms filled more with LPs than furniture, each sleeved with "DJ TYME" stamped in the center of the label.

He handled them the way an elderly man shows prized war medals, holding them up for admiration one at a time. His favorite was the Ultimate Beats and Breaks collection.

One had "Misdemeanor," the coldest song I'd heard up to that point. When he played it, I knew the melody and the shakers, but before I could ask, "So this is D.O.C.?" he'd sniggle, point to the record and say, "Uh-uh. This the original."

Years later, a near-fatal auto wreck landed him in a series of rehabilitation centers, and our communication stalled. Things wouldn't be the same between us.

When we did speak, he sounded miserable and cynical. I grew impatient and self-involved. But I didn't realize he was dying.

It was after I received a message from him that he was looking for me — out of the nursing home and trying to find an apartment on his own — that I learned that he died in early 2001.

I don't remember our last conversation. But if I could recapture a moment with Tyme, it might go a little something like this. Hit it.

Setting: Tyme's attic apartment on Eden Avenue, November 2005

Tyrone (looks confused): I can't believe you got dreads. Your hair used to be long and straight.

Millie (smiles): Maaaan, you wouldn't believe how much I hear that from people who haven't seen me in forever. (silence) Does it surprise you?

Tyrone: I just gotta get used to it. I always liked. You just, you just look different.

Millie: Different how? Different bad?

Tyrone: Just different. I can't explain it. You like a little sister to me and you gon' always look like you did when you was 17.

Millie: Aww. (I blush.) As retarded as that sounds, that's tight. You still look about the same. (Patting his stomach.) Except that.

Tyrone: Yeah. I feel old. Everything is different, especially this stuff they be playing on "The Wiz." (voice peaks) Oh! I heard this one song where they was whisperin' and the dude was like, (whispering) "Wait til' you see my..." and then it was a moan where the nasty word 'posed to go. I don't know 'bout this music. And to think WCIN didn't used to play "Rappers Delight." Then this girl was rappin' 'bout she beat up people wit' bottles.

Millie (cuts him off): Yeah, I feel you on "The Whisper Song," but I actually kinda like the "beat the bitch wit' a bottle" one.

Tyrone (makes a face): Millie! You would like all that cussin'. I can only take so much of that. They ain't talkin' about nothin'. But I heard that Kanye West. I'ma go up to Everybody's and ask Woody to hold one for me.

Millie: What you think about what he said?

Tyrone: Who? Woody?

Millie: Nah. Kanye. That Bush don't care about blacks.

Tyrone: Well he don't! (we howl) I don't know why people actin' surprised at how he handled Katrina. At first I was like, who is Katrina? I don't watch TV no more 'cause it's too much sex and violence. What if that happened to Cincinnati?

Millie: Yeah. Would Bush even come here?

Tyrone: I'm hip.

Millie: I don't even wanna imagine. Things was bad enough when we had the riots, and after all of that where are we now?

Tyrone: I'm hip. All that tearin' up your own neighborhood. It don't make no sense. I see they done moved all the bus stops so they can rebuild the fountain. The mall barely stay open past 6 and ain't no fast food places down there no more. Kids can't afford them places.

Millie: Exactly. So all that "rah rah" don't mean a damn thing now. They were never worried about losing our money anyway. (beat) Oh well. Did you get my message?

Tyrone: What message?

Millie: I asked to borrow your break beat of "Over Like a Fat Rat" so I can dub it.

Tyrone: Oh yeah. I don't know where that is. My brother tried to keep up with my records, but a lot of them got traded away.

Millie: Dag, man, that's a shame. Remember how you always put "DJ TYME" in the middle? 'Cause of you, I started buying every break beat I could find, then I started buying a lot of Jazz and I learned to like it.

Tyrone: How many records you got?

Millie: Um, I don't know. They're in such a mess, boxes everywhere. You'd be mad trying to look through them. Maybe one day you can come over. I might have some of yours. Oh, and I made a few beats on the computer, simple stuff, just samples.

Tyrone: Did you ever go to "Sample Faq" like I showed you?

Millie (smiles): Yep! I sure did. It helped in the beginning when I started buying records, but now I don't need it. Some of the stuff they be havin' listed as the sample source is wrong anyway — you figure that out the more you listen to music. Groove used to look at it too, but he got mass records.

Tyrone: I'm sorry. Who is Groove?

Millie: Oh, sorry. You haven't met him yet. He's one of my best friends. Kinda reminds me of you in a way, the way y'all keep up with anything that's got something to do with Hip Hop.

Tyrone: That's cool. What do he do?

Millie: DJs. Like you.

Tyrone: Like I did. I don't do that no more.

Millie: You know so much about music. You gave me context about things I didn't know existed. Don't you still love it?

Tyrone: I'll always love music. It's just not my No. 1 priority no more. God is.

Millie: I know. (beat of silence) I agree.

Tyrone: My accident changed my spirit. After what I've been through, I know I'm saved. I don't wanna mess that up.

Millie: But Tyrone, you've always been a straight-laced person. Doin' something you love that feeds others isn't displeasing to God. How could it be? Especially if He blessed us with the gift in the first place?

Tyrone (sighs): Maybe you're right. But I just don't want to. I can't explain it.

Millie: It's cool. You gotta do what you think is right. No matter what you decide to become, I'm for it. (reaches and mugs his forehead)

Tyrone giggles.

Millie: Finally! Now that's something I haven't heard you do in a while! You know what? I love you, Tyrone. I really, really love you.

Tyrone (still giggling): You too, Millie!

We hug tightly.

Fade to black. For real. ©