(Dilla Week) LATE TO THE PARTY: J Dilla – The Diary

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IS: Mass Appeal Records

Sharing my thoughts on J Dilla’s long-lost major label album (audio)

 

After the re-release of Ruff Draft on Stones Throw back in 2007, there was an interview with Dilla’s good friends House Shoes and Peanut Butter Wolf discussing the mythical beast that was the “MCA album”, Dilla’s major label debut as a solo artist and an album that caught in major label limbo thanks to all the mergers that happened back in the early 2000’s. Curiosity piqued, I kept hoping that some day that it would see the light day and thankfully, last year, that dream was fulfilled after a long and hard legal battle, as well as numerous technical issues (which you can read more about in this excellent piece by FACT Magazine that they wrote shortly after the album was released). Now that it’s finally out, and I’ve given it a thorough listening, I figured I’d share my thoughts on it.
First off, this is an odd beast; probably best described as a vanity project of sorts since Dilla got most of his favorite producers together to make beats for the album while he put his raps front and center (though a couple of his productions are on here as well, and are easily the best bits on the album). As I said in my review of Jaylib (which is also another album you could compare it to), Dilla is a serviceable rapper but mostly felt like his raps where mostly just set dressing for his untouchable beats. Here that rings mostly true but there are definitely moments where his braggadocious attitude really works, “The Intro” (which was also produced by House Shoes, with some help from the man himself) is great example of that. Other noteworthy performances include a really amusing remix of Gary Numan’s “Cars” renamed “Trucks” and of course the anti-police, “please stop fucking with me” anthem, “Fuck The Police”. But overall, I wouldn’t say the price of admission is worth it to hear Dilla spit, which makes it kind of a confusing listen since if you’re not listening to it for Dilla’s raps, then you’re probably listening to it for Dilla’s productions, which there are some on here, but this album was mostly produced by other people. What really makes it even weirder is it sounds like a lot of the producers on here are trying to sound like Dilla, or at least recreate the essence of a good Dilla track, and surprisingly they do a pretty convincing job.

For what it’s worth, there really isn’t a bad beat on here and there’s a definitely a diverse pallet of sounds. Some favorites include the synth-heavy “Intro”, the catchy “Shining Pt 1” (followed by the couldn’t be more different Pt. 2, which couldn’t have been produced by anyone else Madlib), the rock n’ roll freak out of “Drive Me Wild”, and anything else that was released as a single before the album came out in full. Also definitely check the Pete Rock-produced track “The Ex”, which really really shows how much the two had influenced the other person’s sound (Dilla was once called by House Shoes as “Pete Rock on steroids”).

Unfortunately it definitely has it’s low points that weigh it down. “AA Anthem”, which feature Frank n’ Dank (whose verses always make me feel like Dilla’s rapping circles around them), “Fight Club” which just sounds unfinished, and “Gangsta Boogie” which really sounds like a product of its time, just not in a good way (Snoop’s less than impressive verse and the cringe-worthy hook from Kokane). Otherwise its a solid album that would’ve probably made a lot more sense to come out when it was supposed to rather than being the artifact that it became. Still, I definitely wouldn’t call it a bad album; far from it since overall it’s an enjoyable listen. Taken as a fun, one-off project, it’s definitely a peak into what could’ve been had it not been lost to label politics. I’d recommend it to people who are already familiar with Dilla’s music but it’s the best introduction to the man’s music.

 

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