J Dilla: The Shining

Although The Shining is the final album Detroit hip-hop legend and one-time Slum Village member J Dilla (aka Jay Dee, real name James Yancey) completed prior to his death from lupus (Karriem Riggins finished the album which was 75-90% complete when Dilla died), one suspects it won't be the last one issued under the J Dilla name (apparently a second posthumous disc is scheduled for release). Unlike the instrumental-based Donuts (released on February 7th, the day of his 32nd birthday), The Shining is a phantasmagoria of beats and voices.

A number of impressions arise while listening to the album: the simpatico connection between J Dilla and Dabrye (who has repeatedly acknowledged J Dilla's influence on his work) that's audible in the clap'n'snap of “Dime Piece” and “Love Movin'” (The “That's what's up” line in the latter even seems a direct reference to Two/Three's “That's What's Up”), though it's worth noting that the drums on “Jungle Love” and “Love Movin'” are by Riggins. Almost every song features a guest or two (Pharoahe Monch, Common, Guilty Simpson, Madlib, D'Angelo, J. Rocc)—some collaborations done before Dilla died, some after—but the project's ultimate focus remains Jay Dee and not simply because of the unusual circumstances. It's the disc's grooves you'll remember most, like the lethal splatter that pounds in “Jungle Love” and the lumbering beat that rolls through “E=MC2.” Skip “Geek Down,” the (thankfully brief) opener featuring Busta Rhymes' execrable bark (though the viral “Flight of the Bumblebee” treatment snaking through the background is tasty enough), and bask instead in the warm soul-funk jams that follow: “Love,” “Baby,” and, subtly sweetened by some Prince-styled falsetto, “So Far to Go. Still, the strongest impression is also the most saddening: the tragic loss of a fecund imagination silenced far too early even if Yancey amassed a lengthy list of production credits (The Pharcyde, D'Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Ghostface Killah, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others) plus a smaller number of influential album releases in his short life.

Incidentally, two explanations for the album title are proffered: the first is that he chose the name after waking up in a hospital with a frightening mask on his face, prompting him to use the film title; the other, more appealing explanation emerges during the album's final moments when an unidentified speaker says “I can remember when I was a little boy, my grandmother and I could hold conversations entirely without ever opening our mouths. She called it ‘shining.'” (Finally, a tiny note on the sleeve reads “Promotional copy contains talking to discourage file trading” so one presumes the ‘official' release won't be so smothered in voice samples from Kubrick's The Shining . One hopes so at least, as the voices add an unwelcome density that's suffocating.)

September 2006