Dilla 'Shines' on posthumous disc

BY ANTHONY BABER

Published September 21, 2006

J Dilla is by far one of hip hop's most influential and acclaimed producers. Dilla, born James Yancey, the Detroit producer got his start with groups like Slum Village, The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest. Those experiences led him to join the production group The Soulquarians, along with D'Angelo, James Poyser and ?uestlove. Before his death from Lupus complications last February, he had completed the majority of a few albums, one being the hotly anticipated The Shining.

It's one of the last albums constructed by the production wizard (it was mostly completed at the time of his death, with the finishing touches put on by close associate Kareem Riggins). The Shining is a masterful effort that sounds unlike anything else in his discography.

Dilla enlists the aid some of hip hop's most eclectic, well-established lyricists, like Black Thought, Common and Pharaohe Monch to lace his beats with inspired rhymes, while still giving them room to breathe.

The album starts off with Busta Rhymes as he introduces the opus "Beat Down." The song is composed of "Flight of the Bumblebees," set in an innovative arrangement - a chorus of kazoos accompanied by a heavy bassline that rattles the listener's brain.

The brass horn and elegant string ensemble on "Love" has an inviting sound that proclaims Dilla's neverending love for sweet soul music. Pharaohe Monch's verse puts it best, saying "Love music, gospel to the thug music / Some inspire the soul when they write, some abuse it / I choose to choose what I choose when I choose it / Put love in the music, cuz we must be in love".

Part of Dilla's genius is matching a beat to it's MC's particular strengths. The electronically raspy chorus on "E=MC2" is satisfyingly conciliatory with Common's palatable rhymes. The rippling sounds of piano keys and harmonious piping fully accentuate the mellow and beatific R&B stylings of D'Angelo on "So Far To Go." Sounding like a computer-generated ghost, D'Angelo's supernatural vocals spread over the track like hot butter.

Not all of the production on the album is smooth beats with melodic vocals. The cymbal crashes and rattling chains over the crescendo of sirens on "Jungle Love" show off Dilla's affinity for commanding bass-heavy beats, as MED and Guilty Simpson tag along with their cooperative flows.

In a touching tribute, at the end of "Love Movin,' " the song switches up to Dilla telling how he drew inspiration from his favorite records. "How I feel for the day. I don't understand how this shit comes to me or how I have the urge to work. It just happens."

For mere mortals, it doesn't "just happen." But Dilla is no mere mortal, and The Shining is another stellar entry in a catalogue that will live forever.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars