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J Dilla
The Shining


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$60.00 SGD
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Before his untimely passing this year, Detroit producer and MC J Dilla had established himself as one of hip-hop's most reliable auteurs. "He didn't overthink things," said Karriem Riggins, whom Dilla enlisted to finish the nearly completed The Shining shortly before his death, to the Detroit Free Press. Dilla's knack for intuitive and engaging beats served MCs well: His lucid, live-instrument-and-breakbeat-intensive production is synonymous with socially conscious rap's 1990s heyday-- a milieu on which Dilla left huge footprints with production credits on staples like the Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia, A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes and Life, and De La Soul's Stakes Is High.

The Shining's second layer of structural integrity resides in the guest vocals that dominate the album. Many of the record's guests also rose to prominence in the 1990s, though none of them remind us how much hip-hop has changed since then more starkly than Busta Rhymes: The guy who once had one of the most bugged-out flows in rap squanders "Geek Down" with thuggish, boring ad-libs that pay homage to the "fucking godfather Dilla" while contradicting the essence of his playful spirit. Common fares a bit better on "E=MC2", dropping innocuous party raps into the tight slots between the scratches and drums. He's equally passable sparring gently with the always sublime D'Angelo on "So Far to Go", which sports the sort of inventively dreamy yet perfectly coherent landscape Dilla also showed off on Steve Spacek's "Dollar", reminding us that the producer was as good with r&b atmosphere as he was with rap thwack (he makes Dwele sound way better than he has any right to on the "Dime Piece" remix). MED and Guilty Simpson spit nails that are well-suited to the junkyard jangle of "Jungle Love", while Black Thought mounts a commanding presence amid the overlapping click-tracks of "Love Movin'". Dilla embeds his own utilitarian rhymes in the deep digital swirls of "Won't Do", and while they don't add much force to the track, they pretty much stay out of the way.

Staying out of the way was one of Dilla's assets-- one hears his productions, first and foremost, as songs, not as stylized renditions of his brand. This is why his music is at once so enduringly listenable and why it never fully cracked a mainstream obsessed with personality and trademarked tics-- Dilla's trademark was self-effacement in the service of the groove. The mainstream wanted him, but he mostly didn't want it, preferring to work with friends and kindred spirits, admitting as much with the sample that closes out "Baby": "How do I feel about radio hip-hop? I think it's wack. Most of the shit they play is straight garbage." Whether or not one agrees with the sentiment is beside the point in the context of The Shining-- it's simply an expression of Dilla's steadfast commitment to his own vision amid the shifting tides of rap culture at large. Pitchfork


Label: BBE – BBE LP 076
2 x Vinyl, LP, Album, Gatefold
Country: UK
Genre: Hip Hop