If Donuts was Jay Dee’s swan song, The Shining is a glimpse of what his work may have sounded like in the future.
The Shining is his second on BBE; the label released his debut, Welcome 2 Detroit, in 2001. That record, which broke ground on the Beat Generation series, set the creative bar high for those who would come after him, including fellow crate-diggers Pete Rock and DJ Spinna.
The Shining is packed solid with guest spots from friends and collaborators who worked with Jay over his decade-plus-long career. There’s a soul-on-soul combination with Pharaohe Monch singing over one of Dilla’s 45-infused beats, and an effortlessly dope set of verses from Black Thought and a casual hook he borrows from the intro to Jay’s wax-only Ruff Draft EP (crucial material for any Dilla completists). A few heavy drums are all Detroit’s Guilty Simpson and Stones Throw’s Med need to get busy on “Jungle Love.”
Despite Kanye boosting his sales numbers, it was Jay Dee who consistently brought out the best emcee in Common, his former roommate, and he proves it again here on “E=MC2.” But it’s a shame that the lead single will be one of the weaker “donuts,” with Common’s pink-frosting love talk and a few chocolate-sprinkled D’Angelo vocals on top. And I will never understand why a fiery Busta is wasted on a go-nowhere intro. The album’s too short at twelve tracks, but we all know the reason for that. It does end on a high note, with Jay’s version of modern soul: bubbling, multi-layered textures, rugged drums, vocal snip blips, and fantasy rhymes about girls, girls and more girls.
But for me the highlight has to be “Body Movin’,” a white-hot instrumental track Dilla made with the help of Karriem Riggins. It couldn’t be more different than the raw soul convections of Donuts. Cymbal-crashing percussion, sinister keys, an ever-building momentum and vocal samples cut in by the Beat Junkies‘ J.Rocc, “Body Movin'” quite simply sounds five steps ahead of all the other so-called beat-makers out there.
Jay Dee’s real legacy is hard to define, specifically because he mastered so many styles, worked with so many different artists and remained unsatisfied with status quo until his dying day. Even when there was no doubt that what you were listening to was hip-hop, there was always another level to Jay’s music — one you could find with a pair of headphones just as quickly as you could with some push behind the speakers, a hidden element that went beyond samples and drum placement, not only allowing repeat listens but inviting them. The Shining is only further evidence that a master was at work. And that may be the saddest part of listening to this record: We will never know what he would have come up with next.