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Jay Dee - Jay Deelicious: The Delicious Vinyl Years

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Artist: Jay Dee

Album: Jay Deelicious: The Delicious Vinyl Years

Label: Delicious Vinyl

Review date: Sep. 10, 2007


J Dilla's output, like that of other innovative American titans such as Sun Ra, John Coltrane or John Fahey, could only be curtailed by mortality. No doubt, it's only in death that so many of us are even able to catch up with what these folks and others were putting down. The fact that, as a deep as it goes, their art is finite, allows us to sift through it all, relive it, or pick up on it after the fact, once the flurry of activity has been squelched.

However, thanks to a generous flow of posthumous releases, producer, rapper, DJ and beat master Jay Dee (later J Dilla) seems more alive ever. In fact, 2006'sDonuts, which was released only three days before his death from a rare blood disease known as TTP, the full name of which needs no mention here, was easily the most innovative hip hop album of the year. That record's all-but-instrumental, surreal collage of samples, which could often sound like a record merely skipping at a rhythmically poignant space in time, was no doubt the point where many Dilla fans got on the bus.

Since there's nothing left to do but go back, it only makes sense that this collection, a nearly essential set of 90s work that focuses primarily on his Pharcyde beat konducta days would appear now. Gathering as it does a few rare remixes, five tracks from the Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia LP and other work with The Brand New Heavies and N'Dea Davenport, plus a second disc of instrumentals, it makes an excellent point of entry or a reminder of where it all started. Anyone who digs Pete Rock or Diamond D, DJ/producers who no doubt gave Dilla his workaholic attitude and his inspiration for otherworldly grooves, will find much to love here. Dilla's beats are sultry, unafraid of subtlety, and ultimately heliocentric. Here was the alternative to Dr. Dre's The Chronic and the whole of gangsta rap.

And while, on the one hand, it's easy to tell just when this was recorded, there's cohesiveness to Dilla's work. Davenport's authoritarian take on "Bullshittin'" busts The Pharcyde's more defensive version, yet Dilla's manipulated grooves have the same effect Lee Perry's re-mixes did 30-odd years ago; the familiar backing track becomes an entirely new song once laid under vocalists with disparate ways of handling a tune. The Pharcyde's "Drop" doesn't waste a word laying the truth squarely on those who would sell out for major label stardom; Dilla's beats and suction cup keyboards give the words their heft. Elsewhere, on the group's "Runnin'," a repeated, fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure was no doubt a freak show oddity in rap at the time.

The Delicious Vinyl Years is bound to show that Dilla was nearly as important to hip hop as Perry has been to reggae. Now that he's no longer with us, all a music fan can do is listen in awe.

By Bruce Miller

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