Known for his crisp snares and flavorful melodies, J Dilla carved out his own niche in the hip-hop landscape by crafting hits for everyone from De La Soul to Busta Rhymes. So the Detroit beatsmith’s death this past February left a void that can’t be easily filled. But mournful fans can find solace in Dilla’s soulful swan song The Shining, which commemorates his musical genius by juxtaposing lush loops with formidable flows.
The Motown maestro sets the mood with the high-powered “Love,” where anxious strings and horns back Pharoahe Monch’s lyrical assault. Then he provides Common and D’Angelo with the watery drums and hypnotizing piano chords for their heartfelt ballad “So Far to Go.” After playing the back, Dilla decides to show off his mic skills on the Madlib- and Guilty Simpson–featured “Baby,” as he spits, “Here come them boys with the chains on their necks/Every five minutes, we untanglin’ them/It’s Pay-J/Make sure the name’s on the check.”
While Jay Dee continues to successfully flex his lyrical muscle on the dreamy “Won’t Do,” his best work still remains behind the boards. The gifted Midwesterner flips eerie synths and moody bass on the instrumental cut “Over the Breaks,” while the knockin’ drums of “E=MC2” help Common refind his sense of direction (“I admit that I got strange/But I was raised/I was like the Eiffel/Leanin’ through life’s cycle”).
One of the album’s few flaws is the colorless “Jungle Love.” Dilla’s production work here is too bare bones to carry MED and Guilty Simpson’s meaty bars. And although sonically sound, Dwele’s tender “Dime Piece (Remix)” seems a bit out of place amid the boomin’ beats and tough rhymes. But overall, The Shining still manages to hit its mark in displaying Dilla’s penchant for precise production. Black Thought says it best on the snappy “Love Movin’,” as he spits, “My man Dilla do it without even tryin’/The greatest hip-hop producer of all time.” —WILL DUKES