Monday, June 15, 2009

J Dilla - Jay Stay Paid

Not being a car man, the only worthwhile thing I can see that has emerged from the frigid industrial waste land of Detroit is music. However, any city that produces Motown, techno and James Yancy has done more than enough assert its worth in the scheme of things.

Jay Stay Paid is a collection of 28 odds and ends compiled and programmed to play something like a mix tape- complete with interludes; shout outs from various names in the hip hop game; and the occasional MC. And while it doesn’t surpass the landmark that was 2006’s Donuts, it shines with a luminescence that stretches from beyond the grave.

Jay’s dedication was well documented; with a drive that bordered on obsession he honed his craft, continuing to produce right up till the end (he was still working on The Shining from the hospital bed). The peerless quality of his body of work reflects this dedication, but Jay had something else as well. Something innate. Something that can’t be learned no matter how much time one logs in the studio. He had an ear for this shit. It’s not just the way he programmed his samples but the samples themselves. His tracks mash together everything great about black music from at least the last 60 years- a funk guitar or bass line; a flourish of jazzy keys or horns; a criminally overlooked soul hook; g-funk-style synths; air raid sirens, and even techno elements (he was from Detroit after all)- and make it sound so effortless. He wasn’t obvious with his palate nor anal or rigid in his production. Dilla joints have a fluidity that damn near even borders on sloppy at times- the sampled elements gel in a way that almost sounds like live musicians playing. And the way he laid his drums out- easy on the quantize- can be heard in productions of everyone from Madlib to Sa Ra to Flying Lotus and Samiyam.

It’s all quality, but some stand out tracks for me are the twinkling elegance and low end throb of the Busta Rhymes sampling Mythesizer, and the simple but effective Expensive Whip. With its off-beat shaker; thumping techno bass line, hand claps and staccato synths, it might be my favorite cut of the lot. The vocal collabs, with Raekwon, Mobb Deep, (MF)Doom and some lesser known rappers are good too, but this is really Dilla’s show.

This album proves yet again that it was raw talent and not his tragic untimely death that made Dilla a legend.

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