Last month I was in a café in Harlem and could've sworn I saw J Dilla standing right outside. I chalked it up to his spirit or a doppelganger, but had that man resembled Tupac, I would've thought it was Pac and wondered what he was doing back from Cuba. That is the difference in the responses to both Tupac and J Dilla's posthumous releases. With Tupac's multiple albums, we focus in on clues about his "whereabouts" rather than the actual artistry, but Dilla's a different story; we just are hungry for more Dilla. Jay Stay Paid continues in the fashion of memorializing a legend that left us too soon, with substantial beats and significant features that will satisfy most Dilla disciples.
After losing J Dilla due to complications from Lupus in 2006, quite a few albums were released. The critically acclaimed Donuts, which released on his birthday - ironically three days before his death - was the last of the albums with Dilla's heaviest hand. What followed were collections, haphazard at times, of instrumentals with either artists added or standalone soundscapes. Two releases - late 2006's The Shining [click to read] and Stones Throw's 2007 release Ruff Draft [click to read] - showed Dilla as the winning chameleon combo of a poignant emcee, moonlighting singer, and a brilliant beatsmith, with Jay Stay Paid as a hybrid of Donuts and The Shining.
Jay Stay Paid is arguably more thoughtful than Dilla releases in recent years. Set to the backdrop of a fictitious radio station, KJay FM, the track selections flow in a mixtape-meets-deejay set manner, with beat segues and guest appearances. The compilation comes from the mind of Pete Rock [click to read] (acting as the "radio station's" deejay) and the library of Maureen "Ma Dukes" Yancey, including old tapes and rough work during the time Dilla fell ill.
The crisp production on Jay Stay Paid displays Dilla's creative mind throughout various stages in his career. Housing a variety of obscure '70s samples and the soul of David Axelrod, along with signature Dilla basslines and full-bodied melodies, the work could easily have stood without vocals, but the few aren't overkill. There are tons of familiarity on the album, whether reminiscent of other Dilla/Slum Village [click to read] tracks or indicative of the influences he garnered along the way.
Standout tracks include "In the Night/While You Slept (I Crept)" and "Kaklow (Jump On It)", both creating a slick creepy air thanks to digitized synths, "On Stilts", "Mythsysizer", "Milk Money", a Caddyshack score sample with a hint of a downtempo "Don't Say Nuthin" (by The Roots), and "Spacecowboy Vs. Bobblehead", which distorts the harmony of Gait MacDermot's "Let the Sunshine In" (of Hair fame). The select artists on instrumentals are near-perfect fits, including Blu [click to read] on "Smoke", the fantastic "Reality TV" [click to read] featuring Black Thought, and "24K Rap" [click to listen] with Havoc [click to read] and Raekwon [click to read]. There is some new school retro-production (a la Madlib and 9th Wonder) that presents a quandary of which came first: the Dilla or the beat, but it isn't enough to question Dilla's originality in the least.
For Dilla lovers, Jay Stay Paid is a conceptually brilliant work that does Dilla's legacy justice. Most die-hard fans will embrace this work out of principle, but those just learning Dilla-nese will love it for what it is: a solid ode to a music legend.