Chicago’s hip-hop scene went into mourning Saturday when news broke that WGCI on-air personality and virtuosic turntablist Timothy Jones, aka DJ Timbuck2, had died. He’d been fighting cancer for a little more than a year and had recently turned 34. Jones, who was also a member of Treated Crew, joined the WGCI team in 2004, and a few years later he launched a Chicago-centric show called GoILL Radio—he not only played new music by artists who rarely received radio exposure, he also brought young talents into the studio for live interviews. Through his on-air and nightclub sets, Jones helped the local hip-hop ecosystem grow, helping foster a sense of togetherness. This weekend Chicago not only lost a talented nightlife DJ and radio personality but also a guiding force—he championed the city and its artists and helped make the local hip-hop scene vital and unique.
Born October 22, 1981, Timothy Francis Jones fell for hip-hop at age ten and soon immersed himself in the local scene. In the early 90s his older sister, DeAnna, began dating Anthony Khan, aka the Twilite Tone, a producer and DJ with an international reputation; Khan helped build Chicago’s hip-hop nightlife scene and was one of Common‘s earliest collaborators. Jones and his older brother, PJ, took a shine to him. “Tim and PJ would literally be in my shadows from the time I met them,” Khan says. “I took them in my wing and just had them around.” Jones got into clubs he’d otherwise have been too young to enter by carrying crates of Khan’s records, and he and PJ interned on Khan’s WHPK radio show with Dug Infinite and No I.D., answering phones and doing chores. “I brought him through the ropes,” Khan says.
By the mid-90s, Jones was opening for Khan at local clubs. “I knew that Tim had a talent, and I knew that he really loved music and really wanted to DJ,” Khan says. “He took the craft very seriously.” Jones’s manager, Shareeff Williams, says he learned everything there was to know about DJing from shadowing Khan. “Just being around that and absorbing all that, [Jones] just had a musical IQ of someone I had never seen before,” Williams says. “I had never seen anybody at that level—he was DJing nightclubs when he was 14, 15 years old.”
Jones became a scene staple, DJing high school parties, talent shows, and hotspots such as Wicker Park record shop Beat Parlor. Jones’s good friend Antony Murphy, who’s nearly a decade older, remembers first seeing him as a 15-year-old kicking it outside nightclubs, where the two would strike up conversations. “It was weird to me to have a kid who was half my age that was into the same things as I was,” Murphy says. “It’s very rare for someone to be that age, know what they want to do, to seek it and do it, and watch it unfold,” Murphy says. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
In the late 90s, Khan lost interest in playing local clubs and decided to pass the baton to his protege. “When I chose to leave the circuit, I said, ‘Tim, I’m gonna give you all my gigs,'” he says. Jones still wasn’t old enough to get into a bar, but Khan helped with that too. “I’m the one that introduced him to a lot of people, and just to take any kind of prejudice out, I was like, ‘This is my brother,'” he says. “Everybody knows Tim as my brother.”
According to his manager, Jones came into his own as a DJ in the late 90s. Williams, 36, cut his teeth hosting parties when he was too young to attend them as a civilian, and he remembers the event where he bonded professionally with Jones. They partnered for a party at Rapture in 2000, when Williams was still attending DePaul. “Him and I, it’s like this is something special here,” Williams says. “The first party we did was sold out to capacity, and we beat some of the older, bigger promoters.” He graduated from DePaul in 2003 and became Jones’s manager in an official capacity in 2005.
In the early 2000s, Jones worked regularly at local nightclubs such as Dragon Room and Slick’s Lounge, a Goose Island spot run by former Beat Parlor owner Howard Bailey. Jones had a late-night weekend gig at Slick’s, where he could attract a crowd till the wee hours of the morning. In 2004 a friend named Happy brought Tiffany Green, music director for WGCI, to see Jones spin there. “She just saw how good he was,” Williams says. “Happy was like, ‘This is the future.'”
Jones was working in the mailroom at a law firm downtown when he got the call from WGCI. The same day the station offered Jones the 5 PM rush-hour shift, New York radio personality DJ Enuff invited him to join the Heavy Hitters, an elite American DJ crew he’d founded. “It was quite a day,” Williams says. “He was able to quit his [mailroom] job—I think he quit right at that time.” Jones not only had his own live mix show on one of the biggest radio station in Chicago, but he was also playing clubs nearly every night and spinning at corporate events Williams helped set up.
Jones soon cemented a reputation as a top-tier DJ, playing international parties and touring with Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. Demo Salazar, who met Jones while working for marketing and promotions company Ch’rewd, remembers what made Jones magical on the turntables. “It wasn’t about what he played but how he played it—he wasn’t just spinning hip-hop, he would spin everything,” Salazar says. Jones stuck with vinyl even as throngs of DJs transitioned to Serato. He was hip-hop to the core, and he wore his love of the culture on his sleeve—in some ways literally. He had a large tattoo of the logo from the 1982 hip-hop film Wild Style, with one word of the title on each arm.
Jones’s devotion to his craft could rub people the wrong way. He’d show up to clubs with friends who served as buffers between him and anyone eager to make requests—he prefered to lock in and focus, without that distraction. Murphy heard complaints frequently. By the early 2000s, Murphy and his twin brother were so close with Jones that friends would call the DJ his “triplet.” When a clubber got upset about Jones blowing off requests, Murphy would hear about it: “Your boy’s an asshole, fuck your boy.” Jones was a perfectionist and unafraid to voice criticism, but he showed love to people who earned his respect. “I owe a lot of success to [Jones],” Salazar says. “Understanding how to navigate through the industry, how to carry myself—everything from my appearance to how I spoke.”
Jones’s kindness found a new outlet after the launch of GoILL Radio in 2007. Every Saturday at 9 PM, Jones would spend an hour focusing on local hip-hop—the show’s name was a tribute to Khan, who coined the term “GoILL.” According to John Seyferth, who worked behind the scenes on GoILL Radio, the show was a grand experiment. “Nowhere else did that exist on Clear Channel radio,” he says. “We took that opportunity to really showcase Chicago.”
Seyferth says he left his career in finance after running into Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden while playing poker at the Horseshoe Casino. He decided to focus on music, and he soon met Jones through Lady Gaga producer DJ White Shadow. “Tim trusted my ear, which is the craziest thing to me,” Seyferth says. “He has the best, most discerning ears in hip-hop.” At GoILL Radio, Seyferth edited tracks for airplay and eventually handled all of Jones’s social media—Jones didn’t like to promote himself, except by performing. Seyferth wasn’t a WGCI employee, but Jones fought to keep him around. “He offered to pay me, and I didn’t want a dime, because I didn’t want money to come between us,” Seyferth says. “There’s really times where I didn’t give a fuck about anybody else but Tim, and was really kind of obsessed with just supporting him and rocking with him.”
Seyferth rattles off a string of important locals whose tracks he and Jones premiered on GoILL Radio, in many cases giving the artists their first commercial airplay: the Cool Kids, YP, King Louie, Lil Durk, Jeremih, Rockie Fresh, BJ the Chicago Kid, Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper. “My first radio play was definitely from Tim,” says Treated Crew rapper Mic Terror.
GoILL launched while Mic Terror was breaking out, and the show played his tracks “Hoopty Music” and “Juke Them Hoes,” which the MC changed to “Juke Them Girls” for radio. “I came up there and did my first mainstream radio interview with Tim, talking about ‘Juke Them Girls’ when we did the premiere,” Mic Terror remembers. He first saw Jones spin a DJ set in 2006, and they became friendly. “[Jones] was the young OG,” Mic Terror says. “He was one of the only big homies we really had.” Jones was part of Treated Crew before it became a formal thing, and helped shape its image.
GoILL often coordinated world premieres with local hip-hop outlets such as Ruby Hornet, Closed Sessions, and Fake Shore Drive, whose founder, Andrew Barber, had long admired Jones. “We were the same age, and I looked at him as a leader within his field,” Barber says. He launched his site around the time GoILL got under way, and he and Jones would compare notes on new acts. “The first time I ever heard my name or Fake Shore Drive’s name on the radio was on GoILL radio,” Barber says. “That meant the world to me.”
Barber and Jones decided to work together on a mixtape, which was unusual for Jones—he prioritized performing rather than releasing music. The idea was to present exclusive tracks by local artists, a tricky proposition considering Jones’s perfectionism. “You’d bring Tim a handful of records and he’d be like, ‘Man, these are wack,'” Barber says. It took between six months to a year to assemble the project, but in 2009 Barber uploaded the The Fake Shore Drive Mixtape to Zshare.
The Zshare link had been dead for a few years when news of Jones’s death made the rounds Saturday, and Barber reuploaded the mixtape to AudioMack that day. The mix exemplifies Jones’s skill at bringing generations of Chicago hip-hop artists together; the Cool Kids serve as hosts, GLC contributes a couple tracks featuring Kanye, and Twilite Tone leads off with a collaboration with Chicago street-rap godfather Bump J.
The reupped Fake Shore Drive Mixtape is just one of many tributes that flooded the web Saturday. Seyferth uploaded a mix he says Jones made for Sean Combs, aka Diddy—Seyferth is the only other person to have a copy of the adventurous mix, which blends soul, classic rock, and the Wild Style theme. Photos of Jones’s smiling face circulated on Instagram, Chance the Rapper posted a video from his GoILL appearance with Caleb James, and Kanye West sent out his condolences on Twitter.
R.I.P. DJ TIMBUCK2. He was an amazing person and talent. My prayers go out to his family.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) December 20, 2015
To most people, Jones’s death came as a shock—he’d kept his illness to himself, even around his closest friends. “He never wanted to talk about cancer,” Murphy explains. “We had no conversation about cancer unless he wanted to volunteer information.” Murphy says Jones went about his business like nothing had changed—he shopped every day, ate, and hung out with friends. Salazar, who like Murphy was part of a tight core of five friends Jones kept close during the toughest times, could see how sickness was wearing on Jones during his DJ sets (at least when he was healthy enough to DJ). At one point Jones had trouble standing. “When he DJed he moved a lot, and his movement definitely helped with his flow while spinning,” Salazar says.
Jones fought cancer his way, right down to how he shared the news. Last night WGCI’s DJ MoonDawg hosted an on-air tribute to Jones from 6 PM to midnight, and Salazar read a note Jones had written about his illness, which he’d intended to have made public after his death. Jones describes learning that he had stage-four renal cancer on November 18, 2014: “I shed my tears about it, but quickly let go of those feelings because I knew they would do me no good. I knew from that point on I had to be stronger than I’ve ever been.”
I missed Salazar’s time on the air and only heard the word “cancer” a couple times while listening to MoonDawg’s broadcast. He played old mixes from Jones and clips of his interviews about the craft of DJing. A bevy of guests dropped in, including Williams, Barber, Treated Crew rapper-producer Mano, YP, Twista, and Closed Sessions cofounder Alex Fruchter, who said Jones “meant something serious to Chicago’s music scene.” Lupe Fiasco called in to share his love, giving voice to sentiments shared by generations of local hip-hop artists. “He had a glow about him,” Lupe said. “You knew he was special.”
There will be a public viewing for Jones today from 3 to 8 PM at Rago Brothers Funeral Home (624 N. Western).