Posthumous albums, especially in hip-hop, get a bad rap (no pun intended). And 99% of the time, there is a great reason for that. Just look at 2Pac’s after-death legacy, though it’s tough to call it a legacy considering how tarnished it’s become. While it’s obvious he recorded hundreds of hooks and verses in his shortened existence, he kept those unreleased because they were likely not up to snuff. But they were released anyway. And very few of those tracks were worth listening to more than once, if at all.
Thus it’s not an easy feat to get overly excited about a new J Dilla album. The man was clearly a talented producer during his time on this planet, and many of the beats on Jay $tay Paid indicate that. But, like with all deceased artists, he obviously had no say about this record, so it feels less like a true Dilla album and more like a loose collection. Unfortunately, that’s just what happened here. Sure, many beats are worth breaking your neck over. And a handful of the guest features are well-worth at least a dozen spins. But as a whole, J$P just doesn’t hit as hard as it could and should.
And the biggest problem here rears its ugly head on several tracks featuring rappers, as well as a handful of instrumentals. It’s just not possible to get that into “Dilla Bot vs. The Hybrid”, “Smoke”, and “Fire Wood Drumstix”. All three are brought down by average Dilla beats and dull verses from Danny Brown, Blu, and DOOM, respectively. It makes sense that Blu and Danny Brown aren’t exactly at home over those beats, since only Blu has spit over a Dilla production before this. But DOOM’s flawed and boring performance is just confusing. As for the instrumentals, the weak links, such as “9th Caller” and “CaDILLAc”, aren’t thrilling because they sound either recycled or unfinished. The latter is a major issue with the album in general.
But that’s not always the case. There are plenty of beats to break your neck to, like the trippy-as-hell and experimental “Milk Money” and “In The Night/While You Slept (I Crept)”. And any sucker for piano loops will absolutely love “10,000 Watts”. It’s also not hard to picture a gutter rapper spitting braggadocio over the half-acid-trip, half-street-anthem “I Told Y’all”. With that in mind, it sounds predestined the way Lil’ Fame absolutely murders “Blood Sport”, a track charged by beat- and flow-changes from Dilla and the M.O.P. emcee. The same goes for “24K Rap”, one of the album’s best, which has Raekwon and Havoc spitting hungry verses over a beat that can only be described as ridiculously dope. The only exception to this more rugged rule is “Reality TV”. Although Dilla isn’t firing on all cylinders, he is carried by Black Thought’s witty and sarcastic rundown of reality television.
Some critics and fans have likened this record to a combination of Donuts and The Shining, both fantastic posthumous Dilla records in their own right. If you are not already aware, Donuts is the “beat CD” that nearly everyone lost their minds over because, for brevity’s sake, it’s phenomenal. The way he flipped, chopped, and laced those beats proves how much talent Dilla possessed. As for The Shining, it was a more structured and traditional record than Donuts, meaning it had full-length songs with hooks and verses. It also featured some of his best and most skilled friends, like Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Common, and Madlib.
So, in a way, you can understand why people would equate J$P to the lovechild of those two albums. But, if any comparisons are in order, it’s really more like a lengthened version of Ruff Draft, which was originally released in 2003 and reissued in 2007. Like Ruff Draft, J$P is an abstract and left-field take on hip-hop. Also, the two albums feel unfinished, or “rough”. Even though Dilla had full creative control over Ruff Draft, it still exuded a raw vibe that he was obviously going for by releasing it on cassette. J$P, on the other hand, was put together by Dilla’s mom, affectionately dubbed “Ma Dukes”, and his hero Pete Rock.
J$P‘s strengths might outweigh its weaknesses, but it’s just not enough. Also, this album feels far too long at a mere 60 minutes’ runtime. And anyone who isn’t a Dilla T-shirt-wearing beat-head won’t exactly be won over by many of the beats on here. This might be a “good” record by comparison, but it just doesn’t stack up to Dilla’s impressive legacy.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.