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Album Review: J Dilla's 'Jay Stay Paid' *

June 9, 2009 |  4:45 pm

Jaydilla It’s impossible to evaluate a posthumous album. With a suddenly finite amount of material, things would ostensibly correlate to typical supply and demand ratios. But the history of rap hasn’t born out Adam Smith, with most post-mortem offerings little more than slap-dash cash grabs, filled with odd-couple cameos, maudlin mourning and rudderless direction. Yet with UGK’s recent “UGK 4 Life” and now J. Dilla’s “Jay Stay Paid,” the first six months of 2009 have upended all of our previous assumptions. 

Credit is certainly due to Dilla’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, who executive-produced the record, and legendary producer/Dilla idol Pete Rock, who handled music supervision. After all, Violetta Wallace and Afeni Shakur oversaw their progenies’ posthumous work — enlisting close compatriots and spiritual kinsmen — only to produce middling efforts. To be fair, neither mom was working with anything close to the source material of “Jay Stay Paid” — a record that not only tops any solo offering that the late James Yancey released during his lifetime, but also rivals Slum Village’s “Fantastic Part 2” and his own “Donuts” as his finest full-length effort. 

Dilla was notoriously prolific -- rumors bruited about by his peers estimate the number of extant and unheard Dilla beats to be in the high hundreds -- but few expected the mine would produce gems this refulgent. “Spacecowboy vs. Bobble Head” glows with an alien phosphorescence, like an extraterrestrial’s impression of hip-hop spied through a cosmic dust of static, cold and Stonehenge-hard drums. The incandescent keyboard loop of “10,000 Watts” sparkles like a Versailles Hall of Mirrors.

Largely constructed from fragments conceived in the early '00s, “Jay Stay Paid” reveals the strain of Detroit House submerged in much of James Yancey’s music. Fellow Motown legends Derrick May, Carl Craig and Juan Atkins bear an influence almost as salient as the ectoplasmic soul samples he famously excavated and reinvented. While the format (a J Dilla station programmed by Pete Rock) is far from novel, it’s redeemed by the curators’ impeccable taste, with guest spots from the likes of MF Doom (“Fire Wood Drumstix,”), Lil Fame of M.O.P. (“Blood Sport”), Chef Raekwon (“24K Rap”) and Black Thought of the Roots. In particular, the latter delivers a dazzling performance on the reality show-ripping “Reality TV,” likely the only rap song ever to rail against “Growing Up Gotti” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

UPDATE: The original version of this post stated that the title of the song featuring Black Thought was "Reality Check." The correct title is "Reality TV."

But success is expected from current and former champions — what makes “Jay Stay Paid” so exceptional is its consistency, with even newcomers and lesser-knowns delivering stand-out work. Undeservedly unsung Detroit vets Phat Kat (“Digi Dirt”) and Danny Brown (“Dilla Bot Vs. the Hybrid”) own Dilla’s beats like they were their birthright. Meanwhile, two of L.A.'s most promising prospects, Blu and Diz Gibran, reaffirm why the term “Los Angeles revival” isn’t merely the province of downtown real estate (pre-recession). 

Prior to Dilla’s passing three winters ago, it’s likely that this would’ve been as overlooked as the rest of his catalog — but regardless of sentimental import or macroeconomics, “Jay Stay Paid,” is yet another parting gift.

-- Jeff Weiss

J Dilla 
“Jay Stay Paid” 
(Nature Sounds)
 4 Stars