The music industry is mourning one of our own – Chicago on-air personality Timothy Jones, better known as DJ Timbuck2, who at the age of 34 has succumbed to a yearlong battle with cancer.
He hosted WGCI’s Go ILL Radio for the past 12 years before taking a sick leave after being diagnosed in November, 2014. I have personal memories of Tim that I will share here.
Starting out in the music business at 16 coming out of my sophomore year of high school was surreal. At the time, I wouldn’t have called myself “technically” in the business, but a kid participating in a youth based program at WGCI and eventually interning under the guidance of then Music Director, Barbara Prieto. It didn’t seem like I was choosing a business to be in; it felt like the business was choosing me.
When I first met Tim, that was the same energy that struck me when I saw him spinning in the back of Howard Bailey’s Wicker Park record store, the Beat Parlor. He was a skinny, babyfaced and quiet Black kid just into the music. He wouldn’t say much – he just waved when he saw me and delved back into his music.
I asked Duro Wicks, the manager of the store, “Who is the kid?” and he jokingly answered, “Oh, that’s Tim. We’ve adopted him.”
Every week, I would come to the Beat Parlor – making my rounds as a street promoter, dropping off the latest new music or doing a display – and every weekend, Tim would be spinning while customers shopped.
He was spinning everything. His music selection was way before his time, but he was experimenting and finding ways to blend it into his sets. Some would call him a “purist” DJ, the kind of DJ that spun what intrigued him based on discovery and originality, not on what commercialism dictated.
Tim attended Gordon Technical High School, which is now DePaul College Prep, and grew up in Bucktown, where he would often frequent and learn the ropes at Beat Parlor Records, not far from his home.
Howard Bailey owner of Beat Parlor Records remembers how he first met Tim: “I met him when he was nine or 10 through his sister when we would play cards at my friend Terrence’s house. One day, his sister brought him to my store when was about 13 or 14 years old,” Bailey said. “He kept asking me for a job.
“I told him, ‘If you want a job, you have to start out sweeping the floors.’ He swept the floors. He knew he would get his turn. He wanted to DJ so bad and wanted to be in that environment, so he swept the floors. From that point on, every time someone came to the store trying to do a promotional or charity event, we said, ‘Tim will do it!’”
Mastering His Craft
One of Tim’s main DJ role models and mentors was Anthony Khan, known as The Twilite Tone. Khan’s no nonsense approach to spinning music – a cross between Old School House, underground Hip Hop and hot R&B joints – was unique. It bridged the gap between the South Side and North Side kids.
He adapted to the New York style of chanting over the mic during his set, which Chicago rarely did until Khan elevated the style. Tim soon became his protégé. Back then, he was not “club legal,” but he was a part of The Twilite Tone’s inner circle.
This circle included some familiar names in the music and club promoter world – John Monopoly, Don C., Happy, Shareff Williams, and Reno. The former Dem Dare member would often have him warm up the crowd before he would bless the turntables.
Before there was the easy flow of banging out songs on your laptop, there were actually Technics and then Pioneer CDJs. I got to know Timbuck2 while he was mastering his craft on the turntables and before he was knee-deep in the hustle of business.
I witnessed someone who eagerly wanted to prove that he could hold his own among some of the best DJs in the business. Gradually, his name became familiar with his peer group and he became the resident DJ at Slick’s Lounge, a new Near North club owned by the man who gave Tim his first break – Howard Bailey.
“Slick’s was his first primetime residential gig. Black promoters rarely got clubs on the weekend in the city. We got them during the week. Hiring Tim wasn’t a fluke – I was so tired of listening to the same DJs. I had all of the masters around me. I wanted the young master and the new master. So, I had both Andre Hatchett and Tim. I don’t know what I was thinking about,” Bailey laughs.
“Between the two of them, they drove me crazy. The energy was always on nine. It was the first time people could actually stay in one club all night and listen to everything while taking a musical journey from the beginning to the end. Andre would come in playing disco and Tim would wrap the night up playing hip hop.”
Slick’s Lounge was the hottest nightclub that catered to a diverse group of hip patrons and broke the segregation mold – various groups came together under one roof to party. Celebrities and national recording artists would drop through and Tim was soon the DJ that many wanted to hear.
In any given set, you could hear him blend Diana Ross’s Sweetest Hangover to Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones – he could read the crowd. But, interrupt his flow and he could shut you down or have you escorted out of the DJ booth. Record promoters would often approach him in the booth with their latest priorities and Tim wasn’t into the interruption when he was in his zone.
In 2004, he attracted the attention of former WGCI Program Director Elroy Smith and Music Director and Assistant Program Director, Tiffany Green. They wanted to add a fresh vibe to the mixshow roster and really loved Tim’s style.
The adjustment of creating a mix for radio airplay and spinning what you want in the club was not an easy task and Tim came under some criticism. His moniker of “Youngest in Charge” became a signature badge – being the youngest DJ to grace the mixshow airwaves.
Despite the grumblings of the other veteran DJs, Green worked with Jones on adapting his style to a more radio friendly audience without losing his authentic sound. Once again, he wanted to prove that he could hold his own with other seasoned DJs and often his shyness would be misinterpreted as “standoffish” and reserved.
My Personal Connection
At the time, I was always helping out DJs and I thought of Tim as my little brother. He would call me for advice or just to see what I was working on.
The Mixshow Power Summit (MPS) was a popular music conference that brought all the top national urban radio mixshow DJs together at key destination resorts for a weekend of record label showcases, panels and overall power networking.
One year, the MPS was being held in Puerto Rico and Tim hadn’t yet built solid relationships with industry executives enough to receive callbacks. He was a good kid and anything I could do to help him was a no-brainer. With a plane ticket in hand, Tim was on his way to Puerto Rico.
When he returned, he called me, excited about the many people he met. But what made his entire weekend was having a chance to talk with platinum producer and artist Pharrell.
He said, “Mary, we just sat at the bar and started talking about life. Our families, our girls, and other things besides music. It was so refreshing to sit there and talk to one of my favorite producers.”
Tim loved Pharrell’s style and unique approach to being a trendsetter without trying hard. I have a feeling that conversation probably influenced Tim’s brand and not being afraid of expressing himself unapologetically.
Some felt his style evolved when he began flying around the country and spinning at exclusive celebrity parties for Kanye West and other notables. But, Timbuck2 had his own fashion palette that was clean, stylish and b-boy chic – complimentary to his love of sneakers and tattoos.
Tim, The Heavy Hitter
There aren’t many DJs that Pharris Thomas will give a great deal of praise to, but Timbuck2 was added as new member of DJ Enuff’s elite group of DJs, The Heavy Hitters, in 2004. Becoming the youngest member of the DJ collective was a tremendous honor for him.
Pharris knew there was something special about him. “Timbuck2 was an awesome person as well as one of the dopest DJs to ever touch the turntables. He was a true ‘turntablist,’ Pharris said. “Even when everyone else turned to Seratos (DJ software program), he kept his turntables and kept his wax. He had an old school soul – it was the element of a true DJ. He always wanted to keep that wax and that real feel.”
Pharris said it was the influence of his family that laid his deep roots for loving music, something that is rare in new DJs coming up today.
RIP our beloved brother DJ Timbuck2. We will always remember Tim for his infectious smile, his kind heart, but most of all his passion for music. We will forever miss our brother Timbuck2 and the void he leaves in our hearts will never be filled. Heaven just received an angel that’s gonna rock the party. Sincerely, Pharris & The Heavy Hitter DJ’s HEAVY HITTERS FOR LIFE
“I picked him because he was one the most creative DJs that I ever heard. He wasn’t scared to express himself through music,” Pharris continued. “His passion and knowledge for music was so wide. Everything I saw with how Tim spun music, I felt it. When I would go to hear him play, I knew that deep down this guy belonged with our crew. He was one of us.”
Over the years, Tim continued building his name and became one of the most sought after DJs, spinning at both high profile events and, in the last five years, holding a Tuesday night residency at West Town’s Beauty Bar – “Timbuck2 Tuesdays.”
He kept his circle small to maintain a level of trust, privacy and sanity. Although we didn’t talk as much as we used to, I felt we didn’t have to because every time I would see him, our hugs explained everything.
When I would hug him, I would always whisper in his ear, “I’m so proud of you!” We both accepted special honors three years ago from the Crown Royal brand as Chicago innovators, along with Duce Powell, Luis Ramirez and Leon Deniz. All of us were staying consistent and diligent in our goals of impacting the Chicago music and nightlife community.
As Tim took time off to focus on getting healthy and fight his renal cancer, there was an obvious void both on the airwaves and in the Chicago nightlife scene.
For artists trying to break their music in Chicago, there weren’t many DJs that set the bar as high as Timbuck2. If he played your song, that meant he actually liked your song and if he liked your song—it was the gold seal.
His Own Words
During Monday evening’s WGCI broadcast, they shared a personal letter written by Tim about his ordeal. After the doctor gave Tim and his parents the grim diagnosis on November 14, 2014, Tim contemplated his experience.
An excerpt from the letter read, “I shed my tears about it, but quickly let go of those feelings because I knew it would do me no good. I knew from that point on, I had to be stronger than I’ve ever been. My life would be altered – nothing would be the same.
“I allowed absolutely no pity in my life because I knew that God chose me for this new journey for a reason. I quickly eliminated any and all negative energies and vibes I had in my life.
“It’s never been in my nature to lay down in a fight with anyone, but let me tell you this, I’ve never experienced so much pain in my life from all of the procedures, surgeries, not being able to walk, sometimes eat, swallow, not being able to think straight – chemo, radiation.
“Mind you, I’m not telling you part of my story for pity, but moreso for awareness. Most young people, mainly men, have a problem going to the hospital. If my mother had not forced me to get up and go to the doctor, I would be dead,” Jones wrote. The music business is a rough and challenging business. Our passion can drive us to the brink of pushing everything in us to keep our edge.
Tim was always making sure he kept that edge, and in the process gained the respect, the loyalty and love of those that may have doubted his ability to hold his own.
He proved that age was just a number and reminded others to never judge a book by its cover—if you open that book, you might just discover all the treasures of life.
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