In 2006 Hip-hop lost one of its true innovators. J Dilla’s productions took a cut and paste approach to fracturing old school soul with a modern hip hop twist, the resulting productions were near perfect and inspired everyone from Kanye to Kendrick. However, things could have been very different Dilla had submitted to his label and intended his first release to be an album of him rapping over other people’s beats. The album, the Diary, was rejected by his label and Dilla went off to California to become the underground cult figure hip hop fell in love with.
After his death J Dilla’s mum has taken over the management of his estate, setting up in his memory the J Dilla Foundation. The trust works to tackle lupus, the condition which took Dilla’s life, most of the profits from these posthumous releases are ploughed back into the foundation. This nobility comes despite the Yancey family’s relative poverty (they still live in the Detroit ghetto, his mum is still a health care assistant and his daughters live on welfare). The words Mothers’ Pride therefore best describe how Dilla’s estate has been managed. Care has been taken to release recordings as he would have wanted them and not to be seen to be riding the Tupac train to wealth and fame.
From the outset of The Diary the care taken to get this right is obvious. The release itself was delayed on many occasions. Things sound as you would expect from a Dilla rap release and that is of great relief to many, but is simply preserving a legacy enough?
The album’s opening track The Introduction is a strong opener first premiered by Zane Lowe and made track of the week by Pitchfork. This was clearly with good reason as it stands out as one of the best moments on The Diary.
Fuck The Police Dilla’s classic track originally released in 2001 appears here and is as incendiary and brilliant as when first heard. After receiving a lack of airplay due to the events of September 11th and then going out of print. It is a welcome appearance for this track, one which fans will fall in love with again and will grab newcomers’ ears.
Several of the tracks on The Diary have been previously leaked this includes stand out Diamonds, however despite audiences having heard them before these tracks appear stronger and even more exhilarating in a polished and finished form. And perhaps this is one thing worth noting, compared to his own productions Dilla’s The Diary is much more polished and clean in sound. This, however isn’t a criticism as The Diary was always intended to be a big budget hip hop release with big name producers instead of Dilla himself working on each track. The fact The Diary pulls off its big budget sound whilst retaining underground credentials is a credit to everyone involved in the project.
Some of the verses such as those by Snoop on Gangsta Boogie have been added after Dilla’s passing, however, unlike releases by Biggie et al, these verses do not feel jarring and out of place. If you can think of a better guest rapper for the G Funk inspired Gangsta Boogie than Snoop please let me know. That is perhaps the strongest compliment which can be paid to The Diary everything feels just right, for a release Dilla had wanted to put out himself, his mum and friends have got things spot on.
Despite its many highlights The Diary is not however Donuts (Dilla’s modern classic and cult album) but it does act as a fitting tribute to his legacy. Not only that but a fitting tribute, which may grab some new fans and throw some spotlight on Yancey’s often forgotten lyrical skills. Legacy preserved? And then some.
If you feel like checking out a great cause because it’s not all about music: