J Dilla, The Shining (2006)
The Shining is James “J Dilla” Yancey’s first posthumous release following his tragic death from lupus complications last February. Prior to his tragic demise, the noted hip-hop producer groomed the disc as an exclamation point marking his return to big-league productions for Common, Busta Rhymes, and Ghostface Killah. But the most astonishing thing about The Shining is its modesty. Much of J Dilla’s prior work, particularly his 2001 solo debut Welcome 2 Detroit, was fierce and brass-hard, marked by brittle hi-hat drums and pulverizing, guttural bass. On The Shining he emphasizes rapturous and futuristic soul. (For those who miss his hardcore stylings, there’s “Jungle Love,” a throwdown with MED and Guilty Simpson.) On “So Far to Go,” he works quietly behind the scenes as Common drops a characteristic rhyme about making love (with D’Angelo lending support on the chorus). He opens by chopping up and blending samples of several lush musical notes, then drops a light, jazzy piano solo over the beats and inserts a little studio chatter. The net effect is blissful. Dilla’s infamously swaggering and staccato raps are rarely heard, leaving room for guest vocals by Pharoahe Monch, Black Thought, Madlib and others. The final track, “Won’t Do,” is the only one to feature a complete lyric from J Dilla. “I need space for all of my womens/And these days, the arguing’s limited/I replace the broad if she trippin’/It’s big game and all in the pimpin’,” he raps. Always the unrepentant player, J Dilla’s voice is welcome after nearly an album of silence. Unlike 2Pac’s interminable string of post-mortem products, The Shining doesn’t make a spectacle of J Dilla’s passing. After “Won’t Do,” it just ends; only its liner notes reveal that the album is much a tribute as an coda. The Shining was unfinished when Dilla passed in February 2006; executive producer Karriem Riggins oversaw its completion. An alternate version of “So Far to Go” later appeared on Common’s 2007 album Finding Forever. Though many post-mortem Dilla projects have hit the market since, The Shining is easily the best of the lot. BBE Music.