Somewhere in heaven J Dilla is looking down on us and saying, “Oh sure, now y’all f**king love me.” Sadly, we often take those artists we love for granted while they’re alive, not fully realizing their impact until we look at the space they once occupied and see only an enormous hole. It was true for Kurt Cobain. It was true for Aaliyah. And it’s definitely true for J Dilla. J Dilla was more than a beat maker, he was a sculptor of sound. Unlike the legions of producers focused on pumping out “hot” beats, …
DJBooth Album Review
J Dilla was more than a beat maker, he was a sculptor of sound. Unlike the legions of producers focused on pumping out “hot” beats, Dilla carefully constructed his audio monuments to hip-hop, making him a favorite of other producers. (Kanye patterned his production style on Finding Forever after Dilla.) Tragically, Jay Dee passed away after a chronic battle with health problems just as he was starting to earn some well-deserved recognition. In fact, his second album Donuts dropped just three days after his death. Now, more than three years after his passing, his mother Mrs. Yancey – aka Ma Dukes – and another legendary producer Pete Rock have teamed up to release the posthumous compilation Jay Stay Paid, an album that’s simultaneously a celebration of his life and a memorial to his passing.
While the majority of Jay Stay Paid is instrumental, a track without a rhyme is like sex without an orgasm; enjoyable but ultimately lacking. Dilla was beloved by rappers during his reign, working with everyone from Common to A Tribe Called Quest, and sure enough some true MCs grab a mic in tribute on Jay Stay Paid, starting with The Roots frontman Black Thought dropping a concentrated flow on Reality Check. I could wax poetic about Black Thought’s intricate wordplay, but we’re here to celebrate the art of production, and Reality Check’s is classic Dilla – a sharp snare driving cleanly layered vocal samples and synths. It’s the same story on Fire Wood Drumstix, a deceptively complex track featuring the dopely schizophrenic rhyme style of DOOM. Even on playful tracks like Fire Wood Drumstix, Dilla’s gritty Detroit roots are always lurking underneath, a reality that’s most evident on the somber 24K Rap. 24K is a darkly textured track featuring Havoc and Raekwon that’s a true testament to Jay Dee’s production versatility. Speaking of Raekwon, it seems only appropriate to paraphrase a little Wu-Tang: “J Dilla was nothin to f**k with.”
The rap-free portion of Jay Stay Paid is both an opportunity to imagine what could have been and appreciate his production skills in full. There’s no better place to start than the neck breaking Big City, a pounding beat that could have easily become a classic with the right help. (I’d love to hear Luda embrace his inner-underground and drop something over Big City). Personally, I prefer my Dilla a little more experimental, which is why I had to turn the volume up on the spacey Lazer Gunne Funke and the organic On Stilts. Still, the album’s best work might just be In The Night, an engrossing cut that’s equal parts inviting and terrifying. Dilla’s the teacher and we’re all just students, so pick up a copy of Jay Stay Paid and do your homework.
There may come a day when so much posthumous Dilla material is released that we’re down to the tracks he never wanted anyone to hear - something I like to call Tupac Syndrome - but today is not that day. Jay Stay Paid is another chapter in the life, and life after death, of one of the best production talents hip-hop’s ever known. And if you don’t know, now you know.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 06/1/09
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Reality Check ft. Black Thought" (2009)
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