Let’s face it – posthumous albums usually disappoint. In the case of J. Dilla, he’s been pretty fortunate to have his legacy live on in a positive manner with solid releases like The Shining and Ruff Draft, the latter of which was completed before his passing. There hasn’t been a terrible amount of remixing or reusing of Dilla’s tracks like there has in the cases of 2Pac and Biggie, which usually resulted in watered down or questionable material.
Rebirth of Detroit is the latest release from the late great James Yancey – and one of the few to be entirely recorded without his earth-bound oversight. The aim of this album was to unite a crew of Detroit emcees, celebrating the legacy of Dilla over a series of unused beats from his seemingly endless archives. Unfortunately, the end result is a disjointed mess of a compilation.
Dilla has had several stages in his career, each one resulting in a different style of production. There’s the early Jay Dee era, the Ummah years, the Slum Village sound, the Beat Generation stage, the Donuts instrumental style; he always seemed to reinvent his sound with each release. Unfortunately, Rebirth of Detroit takes from several different junctures in his career, giving the album an uneven, random sound. For instance, you might hear the earlier smoothed out sound on “Detroit Madness” – a natural sounding collabo with Phat Kat – then switching to Ruff Draft mode on the harder edged “City Of Boom” (feat. Loe Louis & Beej) or “Feel This Shit” (feat. Ketchphraze). Surely you’ve heard of those guys….
And that’s part of the larger issue. Never mind that after two hardcore rap cuts, it then takes a drastic turn to the R&B flavored “Let’s Pray Together” (feat. Amp Fiddler) or the flute-solo instrumental cut “Requiem With Allan Barnes”. More concerning is the list of collaborators tasked with the re-birthing of Detroit – many of which we’ve never heard of, some of which may have never even met Dilla. After being blessed with a record like The Shining, which featured names like Common, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, Pharoahe Monch, this album gives us Soul Man, Tone Plummer, Corey Sparks, and Mr. Wrong. No offense to those guys, but where’s T3? Where’s Royce Da 5’9? Shit, they probably could have gotten Eminem. Old favorites like Illa J and Frank Nitt fit in naturally on “Do It For Dilla Dawg”, as do newer picks like Chuck Inglish and Boldy James on “Detroit Game”, but still, if these are the biggest names the album has to offer….
We had to expect that sub-par releases might start to come down the pipeline without J here to oversee them. Still, we have hope that the yet-to-be-released, Egon-exec. produced Pay Jay LP will course correct Dilla’s life-after-death legacy. If anything, this should be a lesson on how not to commemorate the legend of Jay Dee.
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