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A Farewell to Dusk
In life and in death, the late L.A. hip-hop DJ taught us a lot
By Mike Sonksen
And I say one time for your mind, Los Angeles!
If you're feeling all right, now make some motherfuckin' nooooiiiisssee!
That was DJ Dusk. In the middle of one of his rockin' sets, he'd yell something like that into the microphone and make the room go crazy. Week after week, the charismatic host and resident selector of Thursday-night hip-hop club the Root Down, held at Little Temple in Silver Lake, captured the energy of a party like no one else. Even the esteemed Garth Trinidad, host of Chocolate City on KCRW (89.9 FM), told Dusk he was "my idea of the quintessential DJ. You represent the DJ past, present, and future with your methodic finesse, b-boy flair, and undeniable L.A.-based international swagger."
A fixture in the L.A. hip-hop/soul/funk underground, the 31-year-old Dusk was also known to like-minded folks around the nation, and his presence was beginning to be felt internationally as well. But on April 29, this local legend heading for global stardom joined the long list of promising young artists who died before their time. That night, the man born Tarek Habib Captan was killed by a drunk driver while crossing Washington Boulevard with his girlfriend in Mar Vista. He had been spinning records at a quincea??era held by close family friends.
"It was about 9:45 p.m., and he was walking me to my car," recalls his girlfriend, Rosalinda Kooyman. As they neared the center median, a car suddenly came speeding toward them. The vehicle struck Kooyman first, losing a mirror and deflecting her to the side. Captan took most of the hit.
"I felt his hand push me, and then I saw his body fall on top of the hood," she says. "His body flew off the car, and the driver kept going."
Captan died on impact. Among the eyewitnesses, one alert driver pulled in front of the car and kept it from leaving. Several people hauled the speeder out of his vehicle and beat him up. Kooyman's head was bleeding, but she remained conscious.
"The last night of his life had been spent with his close friends and family," she says. "He was very happy; it had been a blessed night of dancing and laughing." Adds Felicia Mancil-Alva, mother of the girl celebrating her quincea??era, "He seemed to be in a really good place. He was overflowing with love, optimistic about the future and his family. His spirit was very positive."
Born in Liberia on December 1, 1974, to a Lebanese father and a German/Irish mother, Captan moved to La Habra when he was a child. He was the oldest of three brothers. Parents Habib and Janet Captan always encouraged him to explore music, and by age 11 he had turntables and a mixer. His vinyl collecting started early; Dusk rocked house parties while still a student at La Habra High School. He joined a crew of b-boys and graffiti writers called V.O.B. - Visions of Brotherhood - which aimed to promote racial tolerance through hip-hop. By 18, he'd started his own company of mobile DJing, Dusk Till Dawn.
He attended UC Santa Cruz before transferring to UCLA, graduating in 1998 with a sociology degree. There he met Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist and organized the first national hip-hop conference. He later taught a UCLA Extension course titled "The DJ as the Post Modern Musician." His writing and photographs were published in magazines such as Urb, and he also hosted radio shows both solo and with female emcee T-Love.
At first, Dusk's unique slang and overall flavor made folks wonder where he was from. "For the longest time I was convinced he was a Puerto Rican from New York," says close friend and Root Down cofounder Carlos "Loslito" Guaico. "Not just because of his smooth-operator and accent status, but for his understanding, love, and education for all types of music from hip-hop to house, funk, soul, reggae, and salsa."
"In a town where so many people are trying to get over and brag and boast to get to that next stage, he let the music do the talking," observes the DJ Z-Trip, while Miles Tackett, cofounder of the Root Down and of the group Breakestra, notes that "Dusk was a practitioner of the philosophy that change starts in your own backyard." Over the past 13 years, Dusk had mentored hundreds of young people at the Mar Vista Youth Center - doing his part to give others the same gifts he had received.
Heart and Soul
Around 1994, the late, great DJ Rob One took Dusk under his wing, showed him around underground L.A., and introduced him into the Afrika Bambaataa-founded Universal Zulu Nation (which Dusk would help to revive 10 years later). In 1996, Dusk met Tackett, and the pair formed a trio with T-Love for a quick series of shows. Shortly after that, Dusk became the DJ for Lady Copper and Medusa's "Nappy at the Roots," still a monthly event, every second Friday at Fais Do-Do.
By 1997, Tackett and Loslito had asked Dusk to join the Root Down, which over the last decade has been a vital incubator for a brilliant movement, hosting or nurturing such stellar West Coast hip-hop acts as J-5, Dilated Peoples, Black Eyed Peas, the Visionaries, Crown City Rockers, Breakestra, and the Rebirth. Dusk's personality and brilliant timing made him the club's heart and soul as he effortlessly mixed hip-hop, funk, house, reggae, cumbia, and the unexpected.
"Very few DJs have Dusk's full spectrum of musical knowledge," says Loslito. "He knew how to keep people dancing and still take chances." That shows on Dusk's two internationally praised mix-CDs, Top Ranking Volume 1 (a tribute to Jamaican roots, dub, and dancehall) and the salsa-filled La Musica, meticulous productions loaded with rare global party-rockers shaped into carefully crafted musical journeys.
Around L.A., Dusk "was always in the mix," says Z-Trip. "He was a diehard ... lugging crates, digging, making the party live." Dusk maintained an iron-man schedule of mixing around town several days a week, and, in addition to the Root Down and Nappy at the Roots, he was a resident at numerous other clubs. In a sadly ironic twist, his brilliant tribute mix to recently passed rapper/producer J Dilla aired on KCRW and BBC Radio a few weeks before Dusk's own demise.
He was expanding beyond his beloved L.A., performing at Root Down New York City, with hip-hop soul DJ Sake 1 in the Bay Area, and at the Sundance Film Festival, along with high-profile shows on the rooftop of L.A.'s downtown Standard, at the El Rey with Z-Trip, and in the pavilion at the Getty.
Dusk's fingerprints were even on his own memorials: Events in New York City, San Francisco, and L.A. (which included appearances by Bambaataa and hip-hop pioneer Kool Herc) were organized by the DJ's latest venture, Prima Lux. This trio of Dusk and partners Andrew Lojero and Pablo Like Picasso had over the last year been throwing roving parties and after-hours rooftop affairs that just got bigger and bigger. Indeed, Dusk himself had masterminded these three events, two months before his death, intending them as hip-hop history lessons. "Even his tribute party was about teaching and educating," says Kooyman.
More than 500 people attended his funeral service, at Rose Hills in Whittier, among them members of J-5, the Beat Junkies, the Visionaries, and Dilated Peoples. Sixty white doves were released from his plot high on a hilltop and disappeared into the eastern sky - reminding those assembled of the bright light he shone on countless lives.
"Dusk was always about family," says Loslito. "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."