In his last years, James “J Dilla” Yancey’s MPC3000 must’ve acted like a respirator. Since losing a three-year battle with lupus in February 2006, the legendary producer’s unreleased material has proved fruitful enough for four posthumous albums. Dilla’s latest, the head-spinning Jay Stay Paid, is loaded with macabre samples and souped-up break beats, mixed and sequenced by Pete Rock and featuring a scattered array of worthy guest MCs. Talk about easy money.
The biggest compliment that Jay Stay Paid earns is that the album could’ve thrived just as well without any verses. Dilla’s instrumentals are layered enough to fill any gaps typically vacated by voices. What DJ Premier is to scratched vocal pieces, Dilla remains to lifted musical compositions, here alternating from haunting (sweeping Gothic organs give “King” an eerie air) to bubbly (the bouncy 808s of “Expensive Whip”). When the cameos do surface, they’re thankfully up to snuff. M.O.P.’s Lil’ Fame tears through frantic synthesizers on “Blood Sport,” a perfect complement to the equally shredded bass guitars on the Havoc/Raekwon tag team “24K Rap.” The standout contribution, though, comes from Black Thought, who elevates a borderline-corny concept (name-checking network reality shows) into a lyrical spaz-out over Dilla’s unruly acoustic section on “Reality Check”: “Watching Cribs, looking at shit she never gonna get/America’s Best Dance Crew, she watching all the steps/About to tell her like Beyoncé, ‘To the left.’”
Jay Stay Paid does run a few tracks too long, causing occasional déjà vu for the ears (the rumbling bass that dominates both “Spacecowboy vs. Bobble Head” and “9th Caller” sounds interchangeable). A few cutting-room-floor escapees aside, though, Jay Stay Paid is yet another tour de force of crate digging from Jay Dee that’s tailor-made for headphones. They say you can’t take it with you when you’re gone, but even in death, it’s apparent that Dilla’s influence still shines! –MATT BARONE