Album Reviews: The Shining by J DillaThe title of J Dilla's partially posthumous final effort (25 percent of it was recorded after his recent passing due to kidney failure) is eerie if fitting: Stephen King's novel The Shining and the Stanley Kubrick film that made it a phenomenon is all about withstanding soul-searing visions of death. Sound samples of the chilling film litter Dilla's effort like so many reminders that he worked every day knowing the reaper was at his door. That he settled on such a violent if loaded cultural standout like The Shining is what gives his last release an otherworldly existential fear, like the last scenes of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, where Fosse's doppelganger (played by Roy Scheider) experiences his shattered life in real-time flashback as a full Broadway complement of dancers, musicians and actors, with Ben Vereen himself singing "Bye Bye Life" as his farewell song.
So yeah, the layers in Dilla's Shining are deep, and as a result the whole disc practically boils over with material on each song, whose conventional structures struggle to surge past all of the ephemera (and what are we, but ephemera?) into shape, but cannot. As such, the meta (Dilla's struggles with illness, his death, his canonization) and the material become one, and knowing about Dilla and his life becomes as important as loving laid-back hip-hop that rolls with ease forward into the sunset.
It's obvious Dilla didn't want to go gently into that good with The Shining's first track "Geek Down," a machine-gun blast of noise and Busta Rhymes' barked warnings, which blend masterfully into the lead-footed bass drums of the stomper "E=MC2." Common's battle rap, while powerful, still shrinks beneath the samples of Jack Nicholson going mental in The Shining, if only to remind everyone why they came to the joint in the first place. Those samples, taken mostly from the scene where Nicholson terrorizes Shelley Duvall after she interrupts his work, reappear on almost every track, as do sound snippets of Scatman Crothers and other Kubrickian characters. It's their turmoil, and Dilla's intertextual connection to it, that gives his last effort its visceral punch.
That said, The Shining alternately bounces and chills just as finely as anything Dilla has ever done, from De La Soul's smart "Stakes is High" to his last solo effort Donuts. Pharoahe Monch's head-bobbing rhyme schemes overtake the nu-soul lean of "Love," and the raps of the always laid-back Madlib helps rhymer Guilty Simpson turn the instrumental repetitions of Dilla's "Baby" into a strolling thumper. Things get hotter when Stone's Throw regular J.Rocc and Dilla's good friend and session musician Kareem Riggins, who took over production on The Shining when Dilla passed, team up for the blazing "Body Movin'." But they chill just as fast when Dilla's Slum Village collaborator Dwele shows up to croon some silk into a remix of "Dime Piece," before giving way to The Roots' Black Thought and the percussive swipes of "Love Movin," the fourth title on The Shining with the word "love" in it.
Which is as instructive as the title of Dilla's poignant disc, because the guy had more love than anyone for the world and the people within it. And so we arrive finally at the double thrust of The Shining, a musical effort as steeped in love as it is sure that death is just around the corner. How the two can coexist in art if not in life cannot be answered. It can only be acknowledged. Same with Dilla: With The Shining under wraps, his musical legacy is cemented at last. - Scott Thill, Morphizm.com
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