J Dilla - The Shining (2LP)
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Months before he passed away, J Dilla asked fellow Detroiter and longtime associate Karriem Riggins to help him complete The Shining. With the album apparently 75 percent complete, Riggins -- an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and producer in his own right -- was handed the masters and went about the completion of the album as if he were inside the mind of Dilla. Though it's disjointed, a little bumpy, and -- in places -- perceptibly unfinished-sounding, The Shining is a very worthy addition to Dilla's discography. A slightly more in-depth synthesis of studio creations and live instrumentation when compared to the productions that have trickled out during 2005 and 2006, the album is drenched in soul -- save for a couple space-age basslines and other fleeting forms of alien synthetics -- and features an impressive raft of Dilla's favorite MCs and singers, big names and relative unknowns alike. And though it's less than 40 minutes in length, Dilla was always about brevity, which means the meandering is kept to a minimum. On "Baby," Dilla swaps lines with Guilty Simpson and Madlib in what amounts to an amusing locker-room boast fest. (Simpson, apparently a fan of The Surreal Life, claims he'll "Beat your dog like Flavor Flav.") The shamelessly gooey "So Far to Go," featuring Common and D'Angelo, expands Donuts' "Bye" to six minutes, allowing wide shafts of light to pour through the spaces between the subtle backbeat. "Dime Piece" is some prime 21st century quiet storm, a Dwele feature that coasts through twilight. Fittingly, the closing "Won't Do" is all-Dilla, from the beat to the nasty MCing to an impressive vocal hook that's nearly as dapper as anything delivered by Dwele. (Dilla's not given nearly enough credit for being a top-flight R&B producer from the very beginning; compare the Pharcyde's "Runnin'" to Mya's "Fallen," or check the instrumental versions of just about any one of his tracks.) It's impossible not to wonder exactly what this album could've been, or where Dilla would've gone with his skills after its release. But it's just as easy to marvel at the amount of quality music he generated while he was on this planet.