J Dilla

The Shining

posted August 14, 2006 12:00:00 AM CDT | 37 comments

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The late James "J Dilla/Jay Dee" Yancey was a consistent Hip Hop workhorse, but that consistency was matched with what seemed to be a dissatisfaction with simply making dope music. Timbaland cashes his checks from futuristic soundscapes, and DJ Premier's bread and butter is his scrupulous scratching and rock hard drums; but ever since his emergence into Detroit's Hip Hop scene in the early 90s, J Dilla seemed to work like a renaissance painter, pursuing a new trademark sound as soon as he perfected another. Had it not been for his passing in February, he would most likely still be cooking up more uncharted heat. Fittingly, The Shining serves as a splendid documentary of the legacy Dilla created during his career, and sadly, the ongoing genius that was cut short.

The Shining aptly showcases all of the production styles that found throughout Dilla's catalog. Songs such as the Common-featured "E=MC2" and "Geek Down" feature the extraterrestrial bounce that Dilla leaned toward late in his career, while "So Far So Good" and "Dime Piece (Remix)" respectively offer Common and D'Angelo, and Dwele the type of jazzy, subdued grooves that he laid for soul artists in the prime of his career. He showcases his trademark ability to breathe enthusiastic life into soul samples on "Love" and "Baby," and he shows his precise ear for percussion by concocting a complex brew of snares, bass drums, and tailor-made hand claps for Black Thought to spit over on "Love Movin." Instrumental treats scattered throughout the album also satisfy, serving as useful interludes between vocal offerings.

The guest list that contributes those vocals is a noteworthy trait on the disc. Dilla boasted a production resume that included everyone from De La Soul to Janet Jackson, but he was known for turning down opportunities with superstar emcees to prioritize work with the artists in his own circle. While A-List lyricists such as Common, Black Thought and Pharaohe Monch (with whom he also had personal relationships) expectedly hold their own on The Shining, the spotlight seems to shine on artists that hail from Detroit and his Stones Throw recording home. They're sure to make the most of their opportunities: Motown spitter Guilty Simpson spews gritty bars on two selections, while label mates MED and Madlib each contribute solid verses of their own on separate tracks. Dilla also shows the commendable mic skills that accompanied his production genius, rhyming one verse alongside Guilty and MED on "Baby," and holding down the album-closing "Won't Do" on his own.

Frankly, the only misstep on this opus is limiting Busta Rhymes to adlibs on the aforementioned "Geek Down"; with the previous gems the two have had, it's a shame that Busta didn't even attempt to rhyme over the frenetic space funk supplied by Dilla. Otherwise, with its amalgam of past to latest Dilla sounds, The Shining is certain to please die-hard fans and newcomers alike. As implied by the Steven King horror flick the album is titled after, J Dilla's legacy won't ever go away--but it's something to embrace, not be afraid of.

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