The late James “J Dilla/Jay Dee” Yancey was a
consistent Hip Hop workhorse, but that consistency was matched with what seemed
to be a dissatisfaction with simply making dope music. Timbaland cashes his checks from futuristic soundscapes, and DJ Premier’s bread and butter is his
scrupulous scratching and rock hard drums; but ever since his emergence into
Detroit’s Hip Hop scene in the early 90s, J
seemed to work like a renaissance painter, pursuing a new trademark
sound as soon as he perfected another. Had it not been for his passing in
February, he would most likely still be cooking up more uncharted heat.
Fittingly, The Shining serves as a
splendid documentary of the legacy Dilla
created during his career, and sadly, the ongoing genius that was cut short.

The Shining aptly showcases all of the
production styles that found throughout Dilla’s
catalog. Songs such as the Common-featured
“E=MC2” and “Geek Down” feature the extraterrestrial bounce that Dilla leaned toward late in his career,
while “So Far So Good” and “Dime Piece (Remix)” respectively offer Common and D’Angelo, and Dwele the
type of jazzy, subdued grooves that he laid for soul artists in the prime of
his career. He showcases his trademark ability to breathe enthusiastic life
into soul samples on “Love” and “Baby,” and he shows his precise ear for
percussion by concocting a complex brew of snares, bass drums, and tailor-made
hand claps for Black Thought to spit
over on “Love Movin.” Instrumental treats scattered throughout the album also
satisfy, serving as useful interludes between vocal offerings.

The guest
list that contributes those vocals is a noteworthy trait on the disc. Dilla boasted a production resume that
included everyone from De La Soul to
Janet Jackson, but he was known for
turning down opportunities with superstar emcees to prioritize work with the
artists in his own circle. While A-List lyricists such as Common, Black Thought
and Pharaohe Monch (with whom he also
had personal relationships) expectedly hold their own on The Shining, the spotlight seems to shine on artists that hail from
Detroit and his Stones Throw
recording home. They’re sure to make the most of their opportunities: Motown
spitter Guilty Simpson spews gritty
bars on two selections, while label mates MED
and Madlib each contribute solid
verses of their own on separate tracks. Dilla
also shows the commendable mic skills that accompanied his production genius,
rhyming one verse alongside Guilty
and MED on “Baby,” and holding down
the album-closing “Won’t Do” on his own.

the only misstep on this opus is limiting Busta
to adlibs on the aforementioned “Geek Down”; with the previous gems
the two have had, it’s a shame that Busta
didn’t even attempt to rhyme over the frenetic space funk supplied by Dilla. Otherwise, with its amalgam of
past to latest Dilla sounds, The Shining is certain to please
die-hard fans and newcomers alike. As implied by the Steven King horror flick the album is titled after, J Dilla’s legacy won’t ever go away–but
it’s something to embrace, not be afraid of.