The late J-Dilla was not only one of hip-hop's most prolific beatmakers, but also the man best known for bringing real musicianship into an otherwise unmelodic medium. Until his untimely death at age 32, the Detroit-born producer ate, slept, and shat beats, amassing a huge discography that would influence the work of soul group Slum Village, jazz pianist Robert Glasper, and even a few gospel artists. Some of his beats comprised only bass and drums — usually chopped up in some weird, asymmetrical way to make the rhythm more challenging — but melody was where the young producer really shined. Whereas most beatmakers rely solely on samples, Dilla used real chord changes, and tried to make a musical statement with each song.
Only one living producer has ever measured up to J-Dilla, and that's his 36-year-old Stones Throw cohort, Madlib. Known for many eccentric collaborations, Madlib teamed up with Dilla for their bizarre 2003 album Champion Sound, made under the compound alias Jaylib. This year Madlib emerged with an all-instrumental homage to his former partner in crime, apparently the fifth in a series. It's a seamless blend of atomized backbeats, soulful hooks, and obscure samples, some of which recur over the course of the album. Called Beat Konducta (a title that Madlib sometimes uses as a radio handle), it's a two-volume blend of unadulterated beats from Madlib's archive, put together in sequence and repackaged.
As a tribute, Beat Konducta succeeds. Most of its 42 tracks fall within the one- to two-minute range (the longest clocks in at 4:23), but they build on each other to give the sense of a theme advancing over time, rather than just repeating every four bars. Madlib's tactic is to foreground individual samples and enhance, rather than decimate them (hence his "Dill Withers Theme"). Thus he creates a fascinating, disjointed groove that never quite locks into place, and sounds more like a fully conceived composition than background filler. Thus, it very much signifies J-Dilla's style. (Stones Throw)
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