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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
J Dilla
The Shining
BBE Music

Rating: 8/10 ?

August 30, 2006
Hip-hop is a genre of recognizing who came first. Names like Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, Eric B. & Rakim, Kool Herc, 2Pac, Afrika Bambaataa, Run D.M.C., and a handful of others have become the untouchables that every new artist shoots to eclipse but whose sphere of influence few even remotely approach.

There is a similar scale of appreciation for those artists that, although they did not invent the form, were crucial in building it towards a better, more viable place. Jay-Z made hip-hop marketable to the world, turntablists like The X-Ecutioners and Mix Master Mike took performances to an athletically skillful level of technicality, and the Beastie Boys and Eminem made being white ... well, at least not a total handicap.

J Dilla - aka Jay Dee or just James Yancey if you're from around the way - humbly stood out as a liaison between underground and mainstream urban styles of music. A massive A-list of his colleagues boasts such heavy hitters as Bustah Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed, ?uestlove, Macy Gray, D'Angelo, Dwele, Erykah Badu, De La Soul, Talib Kweli, and Common. Likewise, independent artists like Madlib, MF Doom, Steve Spacek, The Pharcyde, Guilty Simpson, and Slum Village would not be where they are today if it was not for Dilla's uniquely creative style and hardworking ethic.

To many, J Dilla personified a sound - a Stevie Wonder-esque hip-hop shuffle, where beats often laid back on the latter end of the groove, and where obscure soul and R&B vocal/string/horn samples, quirky themes, errant handclaps, and an overriding cool simplicity characterized the flow. In addition to all the aforementioned disciples, many artists have been highly influenced by the signature aesthetic, from the entire Stones Throw label roster to electronic artists such as Dabrye and Owusu & Hannibal.

Leading up to his death in early 2006 - and, remarkably, even as he lay on his hospital deathbed - Jay Dee was working on new material, part of that which can be found on The Shining. While the album does harbor Dilla's final compositions, he passed on before he could finish, the remaining touches put in place by close friend and production cohort Karriem Riggins.

This album was to be the next step that Dilla would take towards the spotlight after so many contributions to music, largely thankless, made from behind the hazy scrim of the studio walls. Although not nearly as hot as early 2006's Donuts, The Shining shows for a handful of great collabo's and bangin' beats and further paves the way for Dilla's powerhouse legacy.

While Donuts was 31 tracks of Dilla-only production, nine of the 12 tracks on The Shining are bolstered by MCs as well. With the likes of Busta Rhymes, Common, Pharoahe Monch, Guilty Simpson, Madlib, D'Angelo, MED, J. Rocc, Karriem Riggins, Dwele, and Black Thought of The Roots tossing down contributions, there are no weak bats in the album's lineup. For some, the nature of the slew of guest appearances - which weren't originally intended to define the album but only to enhance it - is not optimized. Many tracks are equal balances of potent lyricism and Dilla doing his thing. Greatly so, the producer's style wasn't altered to meld to each rapper, and sides coalesced.

One of The Shining's drawbacks is that there are some moments that don't blend perfectly. Busta Rhymes brings his mainstream focus to the lead track, "Geek Down," yet spends most of his energy in a warm-up tirade rather than actually tearing shit up with his rhyming skills. Additionally, his intensity overblows when paired with Dilla's slow rollin' kazoo-rendition of "Flight of The Bumblebee."

Then again, maybe the point of the first track is to get the album hype going, and who better to enlist for hype duty than Busta Rhymes? I'm torn about this one. Part of my debate is that The Shining doesn't give off the atmosphere of an album looking to slay. With sound clips from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (Jack Nicholson's infamous "Heeeere's Johnny!") peppered throughout and a general album concept, there is no room for one-off, secluded party bangers.

Despite those apprehensions, The Shining has some obvious standouts. "E=MC2" shows off Common's cross-stitch poetics over a rafter-pounding beat, robotic vocals, and a Stevie clavinet bass line. "Love" is built around a soulful vocal chorus singing of "We must be in love…" and an ambient curtain of violins, and punctuating horns.

The album's best cut is "Baby," which exhibits Dilla's multidimensional and detail-oriented style. A female vocal sample repetitively shouts "Bay-bee!" at the end of each phrase, followed by a quick trill of harp strings. In the background the foundation is set by a ballad-y soul rhythm section, complete with muted trombones and full bass. The hip-hop dynamic is brought in with a sparse, jaunting beat and the quirky rhyme styles of Guilty Simpson and Madlib. Throughout, the difference-making element is J Dilla's voice and brief raps ("Let's go…turn it up") which at song's end introduces a comical sample from a mock radio caller named Dave New York, "How do I feel about radio hip-hop? I think it's whack. Most of the shit they play is straight ga'bage…(echoes)."

The Shining isn't the final brick in the monument of J Dilla's legacy (another release entitled Jay Love Japan is due out later this year as well), nor does it set the standard. It is a very good album, though, and serves as a credential to one of hip-hop's greatest, most underrated producers.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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