So it doesn't appear we're anywhere close to running out of tributes, unreleased material and anthologies for the late J Dilla. Considering how much music he produced in his short life, I'm not really surprised. Nor am I complaining. The nice thing about the compilation is that it gives a decent cross section of different artists he worked with. Some of the tracks work perfectly (Common's “The Light” and Erykah Badu's “Didn't Cha Know”), and some of them not quite as well (Busta Rhyme's “Show Me What You Got” or Frank n Dank's “Okay”), but they all highlight what made J Dilla worth celebrating.
What was clear above all else when I listened to this album is how soulful and moving Dilla was able to make hip hop production sound. You can hear the beauty and vitality coming through the speakers in his drums and samples. If you want a simple answer to the question, “Why do we care about Dilla?", it's right there. When he was left to his own devices or when he matched up with an artist that was on the same page as him, it was magical. Listening to the title track of De La Soul's Stakes is High in this context makes me realize that he was certainly a major factor in it being favorite record of theirs. The music emphasizes what Posdnuos and Trugoy are rhyming about – the trappings of gangsta culture that plagued hip hop in 1996.
When it doesn't quite work, I feel, is when Dilla works with an artist that tries to be gangsta. I know it's something Dilla flirted with himself as an emcee, but it never felt that natural to me. It's one of the reasons why Jaylib was not as good as I had hoped. Tracks like Busta's “Show Me What You Got,” seem incredibly awkward. The production is awesome, very soulful and down-tempo, with gentle guitar strums and whirling smooth basslines. But Busta rhymes really hard some trash talking rhymes that don't compliment the music. The sung chorus is almost comical in its awkwardness.
I can't really fault the compilation for including this material, though. It's important to keep the album inclusive and a true reflection of Dilla's career. He didn't just produce for Native Tongue artists, and he didn't just produce for known artists, which is why I appreciate putting artists like Busta, Pharcyde, and Amp Fiddler alongside one another. It all gives us a clearer picture of the late Mr. Yancey, and the important mark he left on this world before he left all of us behind.
|Title:||J Dilla - Dillanthology Volume 1|