There is no greater irony in pop culture than an unheralded artist finally achieving popularity upon death. A recent striking example of this phenomenon is the late J Dilla. After lupus claimed the influential hip-hop producer's life in February 2006, he went from behind-the-scenes legend builder for artists like Common, A Tribe Called Quest, and Busta Rhymes, to legendary in his own right seemingly overnight. What collaborators and fans admired about Dilla was his masterful ability to flip samples from diverse sources and the level of devotion he had to bettering his craft. As a result, Dilla left behind a wealth of jangly, neck-cracking, borderline-psychedelic beats for fans to explore for years to come.
Jay Stay Paid, the newest collection of beats from Dilla's seemingly boundless archive, reaffirms his legacy as the most sonically adventurous producer in hip-hop history. The album is tied together loosely around the concept of KJAY FM, a station that plays all Dilla, all day. Seamlessly sequenced and arranged by Pete Rock, the producer Dilla most admired, roughly half the tracks feature vocals from Dilla or emcees who fit his leftfield aesthetic. "Smoke" is the highlight here. LA underground king Blu raps for mood, not content, over an evocative coupling of melancholy Moog melody and Dilla's trademark off-kilter drums. The best instrumental track on the record depends on which version of Dilla you're in the mood for. "Coming Back" is a soulful and reflective beat, in the spirit of 2006's The Shining, while the cathartic "King" juxtaposes thunderous kick drums with an angelic vocal sample.
Posthumous hip-hop albums are usually a mixed bag to a fault. Jay Stay Paid avoids the pitfalls of most "new" albums by deceased artists, thanks to the care Pete Rock and Ma Dukes, J Dilla's mother, put into making this random collection of beats a unified whole.
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