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City Paper Review: J Dilla ‘Jay Love Japan’

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Since J Dilla’s death in 2006, record labels’ response to fan’s demands to hear all things James Dewitt Yancey has been met with equal parts homage and exploitation. Where Jay Love Japan falls is hard to say.

Available in bootleg and quasi-official Japan-only releases for a while, it’s good to see Japan in places other than sketchy bit-torrent sites. But at barely 20 minutes long and with no vinyl pressing, at retail price this release is a little too cash-in for comfort. Still, the music within is as teary and joyful as that happy Hokusai on the cover.

Japan’s a terse whirl through Dilla’s entire production career. The clipped acoustic guitar in “Yesterday” looks back to his early production, such as the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” while the song’s use of record crackle as a percussive element–not simply atmosphere–recalls the obsessive sample-slicing of his later work. The electro weirdness of “Say It” pays debt to the Detroit techno of Dilla’s hometown and feels straight from his own work on Q-Tip’s Amplified, reminding poptimists in need of a history lesson that radio’s current rave-hop trend owes a little to Dilla.

“Believe in God” is a make-you-wanna-cry instrumental, like something off Donuts, Dilla’s beat-tape/life-and-death meditation: A guy near death flips soul samples to emote and provide beyond-the-grave advice. “Believe in God’” is an order, but the music gives heads plenty just to enjoy. Soul-strings flail around as thin vocals cry out “God.” It’s a producer beyond hot beats, with some pretty real shit on his mind.

Also, check out Al Shipley’s article on the death of Baltimore hip-hop figurehead Mr. Wilson: Michael Dante Wilson, Jan. 23, 1973-June 5, 2008.

Written by Brandon

June 25th, 2008 at 8:12 am

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