Tuesday, August 08, 2006

J Dilla and Madlib review

Jay Dee/J Dilla

"Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2"
Stones Throw, 2006 (both)

This February, producer/rapper J Dilla aka Jay Dee died of a blood disease. During the last few months of his life he managed to record enough tracks for an album coming out this month, as well as "Donuts", a collection of instrumentals that was released contemporaneous to his passing.

"Donuts" is both Dilla's swan song and his love letter to hip hop. Despite being divided into 31 tracks, it is not so much different songs as one long piece divided up into separate sections. In fact, it reminded me of some of Mingus's more ambitious works, like "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady". It has that same vibe of being one long track that takes you on a journey in a bunch of different directions.

"Donuts" is held together with the mournful sound of a siren, which pops up at the beginning and end and several points in between. Done mostly with a sampler, "Donuts" cuts up different records and sound bites to create a collage that references the Beastie Boys, old soul, jazz, jingles, and whatever else Dilla could find in his crates. It is a fitting epitaph for a man who devoted his life to hip-hop, and further evidence of what the music world has lost.

A month or so after "Donuts" was released, Madlib came out with his "Beat Konducta", another collection of hip-hop instrumentals. Where "Donuts" is a slightly sad, experimental song cycle, Madlib's album is music to groove to. It collects leftover beats from his recent projects, and presents them as a series of movie themes. Like all of Madlib's work, it displays his encyclopedic knowledge of music, his unequaled crate-digging skills, and his ability to mix it all up in away that is both head-bobbing and innovative. One of my favorite tracks has a sample of a guy saying "funny how things can change nigga, funny now niggas can change things" over and over, until eventually it's just "nigga" cutup into part of the beat. It's both trippy and provocative.

While neither "Donuts" nor "Beat Konducta" hooked me the same way DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing..."did, they are both good albums, and are evidence that hip-hop music truly is art. Now when's that Madvillain album coming out....?

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