FOR fans of James Yancey aka J Dilla’s work, the highly anticipated arrival of The Shining (BBE) will undoubtedly be a bittersweet affair. The influential Producer/MC who worked closely with an impressive cross-section of the Hip-Hop and R&B elite including Erykah Badu, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and Janet Jackson, to name a few, passed away on February 10th 2006 from complications due to Lupus.
Ironically, or perhaps prophetically, this posthumous release shares the namesake of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel. As it turns out Dilla and Kubrick have much in common. Both cult figures hold a revered place in music and cinema respectively. They are heralded for their inventive use of production technologies; Dilla for his wizardry on the MPC and Kubrick for his stellar camera work. Their attraction to bizarre, avant-garde projects has often left critics and audiences baffled, Dilla’s work on A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement and Common’s Electric Circus and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut come to mind. And finally, both passed before fully realizing their final projects. Stanley Kubrick’s A.I. was completed by Steven Spielberg while the finishing touches on The Shining were orchestrated by long-time friend and collaborator Karriem Riggins. Unlikely comparisons aside, the result is a bass heavy collection of progressive B-Boy anthems and soul stirring jams.
The Shining is a decidedly Dilla affair. In under 40 minutes it manages to encompass the various styles and sensibilities which have come to define J’s unique aesthetic. On the expressive “Love” an adept Pharoahe Monch espouses his fondness for the forgotten four-letter word. Assisted by an irresistible vocal sample which nostalgically repeats the line “We must be in love”, Monch implores listeners to Talk the talk and walk the walk. On “Baby”, which lends a co-production credit to Dilla’s Jaylib counterpart Madlib, the duo join forces with Guilty Simpson and trade verses over a cleverly sparse concoction of strings, samples and heavy drums. The track showcases Dilla’s confident, lackadaisical flow. Also, check for him singing the hook—Baby you’re the one / Baby take me home tonight / Baby lay me down / Baby girl it’s only right.
Vocal-less tracks like “Body Movin” and “Over The Breaks” are a window into Dilla’s frequent meditations on B-Boy futurism. Tracks like these reveal his frequent dabbling in electronica, but the live instrumentation courtesy of Dilla and Riggins along with his heavy (and famous) drums bring an undeniable B-Boy appeal. Also, look out for hard-hitting tracks like “E=MC2” and “Love Movin'” featuring long time comrades Common and Black Thought respectively.
As Stephen King’s story has it “Shining” is one’s ability to communicate through telepathy. Over the span of his career Dilla has managed to achieve this feat through his music. An album like The Shining communicates raw emotion and creativity in a ways that few other Hip-Hop producers have been able to match. This is why Hip-Hop luminaries like ?uestlove, Pharell and Kanye west speak of the late J Dilla as if he was the supreme ruler of Hip-Hop beats. His music has left an indelible mark on Hip-Hop and beyond. His influence will continue to be heard and felt as more and more up-and-coming musicians continue to be influenced by his work. So as we wait to see who will carry the torch, throw The Shining in the deck and obey as Dilla commands you to “Turn It Up”.
[Publisher’s note: This review was originally posted at allhiphop.com. Published here with the author’s permission.]