J-Dilla | The Shining (BBE)

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It takes a second to put it all together, but as Jay-Dee treats us to soulful beats that say love without words, he is feeding us haunting clips that travel to our ears but somehow never are able to overtake the soul.

 

Most people probably didn’t know who Jay-Dee was. He was Kanye West without the ego, and he should have been thanked for changing the sound of hip-hop. His recent death from lupus robbed our ears of some of the most beautiful beats we could have heard.

Pictures of J-Dilla in his final months showed him in poor shape, emaciated and worn. He is, though, sitting in his studio, with stacks of records in front of him. Until the very end, he was putting claps and booms and baps on top of samples he seemed to chop and layer until they were something completely new. He worked with A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, The Roots and Busta Rhymes for starters. He produced the Pharcyde’s “Runnin,” and De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High.” He was never flashing his chain in videos; he was in the studio, sitting in his chair, making some of the greatest beats in hip-hop history.

Earlier in 2006, he released his first official instrumental album, Donuts (Stones Throw), to universal acclaim. Three days after the album was released, he passed away. What was left sitting on his desk was 90% of The Shining, an album narrated by clips from the 1980 horror film that scares the living shit out of most people who see it. At its core, The Shining is an album about love. People love Dilla for a reason.

The album was finished by his friend and fellow producer Kariem Riggins and features Madlib, Common, Black Thought, and Busta Rhymes. It takes a second to put it all together, but as Jay-Dee treats us to soulful beats that say love without words, he is feeding us haunting clips that travel to our ears but somehow never are able to overtake the soul. “So Far So Good,” featuring Common and D’Angelo, is as beautiful a beat as the album has. Common raps about love; D’Angelo lets his voice say the same. And throughout the song we hear Dick Hollorann say, “I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years. And not all of ’em was good.”

Two notable songs of the 12-track album are “Love Jones” and “Love,” which despite their titles do two very different things. “Love Jones” is an instrumental; quotes from the movie are all we hear. It’s far more gloomy than the rest, with deep drums sitting below a dirty horn. And throughout we have the terrifying conversation between Danny and the doctor about Tony, the little boy that lives in Danny’s mouth. As that song fades out, “Love” fades in. In a rare appearance from Pharoahe Monche, the song centers around loving yourself, your music, and the world around you.

As he was dying, Dilla decided to make an album that addresses death and is narrated by it. Ultimately, though, he drowns out that underlying gloom with music far more uplifting. 

RIYL: Madlib, MF Doom, Slum Village


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