J Dilla

Rap producer James "J Dilla" Yancey, who died of lupus at age 32 in February, didn't yet have the industry clout of peers like the Neptunes or Kanye West, but he sure had their respect, working with everybody from Ghostface Killah to Janet Jackson. This spring's Donuts, an instrumental disc, helped fortify his reputation, and now comes The Shining, an album he had reportedly almost completed before his passing that required only minor finishing touches from Dilla associate Karriem Riggins. Indeed, The Shining feels like pure Dilla, steeped in the man's trademark incorporation of R&B soul with sharp drums. Just don't expect funereal solemnity — tracks like "E=MC2" and "Love Movin'" percolate with supple, forceful beats that inspire guest rappers Common and the Roots' Black Thought to spit rhymes just as lively. No doubt dying will help finally raise Dilla's profile, although the uninitiated may find The Shining's love jams and underground hip-hop purity too modest to be spectacular. But to judge these 36 slender minutes as a grand posthumous summation would be unwise — rather, consider Dilla's stellar final offering as nothing more than an unwitting, bittersweet ending for a talented guy who was just getting started.


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