By the time the mid '70s were underway, half of rock 'n' roll's greatest innovators were already dead. Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (and those were just the J's) were dying off one by one, and it was easy to think: Man, heaven must have one hell of a rock band! Well, the zeros have been the same way for hip-hop. Most of that genre's finest talents are in the ground or in jail (although that's a separate issue altogether), and I can't help but think in the same vein: If there's a hell below, the Devil must be dancing to Soulja Boy right now!
The big names who have left us, like Tupac and Jam Master Jay, are easy to remember (mainly because they died violently), but that doesn't mean lesser known savants don't deserve as much acclaim. Detroit's James Yancey, AKA Jay Dee or J Dilla, who died in early 2006 from complications due to lupus, was seen by many as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the whole rap game. Before Dilla died, he left a bevy of exclusive material with longtime friend Busta Rhymes, who finally decided to put some of it out last week on the exceptional new mixtape, Dillagence.
The concept and arrangement for this new 17-track release was all composed by Cleveland's Mick Boogie, and the formula was simple: let the fiercest MCs in the game rap over the hottest beats that Dilla ever produced. The results are staggering, best manifested on cuts like "Psycho," offering a mind-trip in listening to guys like Papoose and Cassidy rapping over Dilla's production. Never mind that they may not have been fans of his work while he was still alive, or even aware of it. Rah Digga, who is easily the best guest on this mixtape, sounds at home on the track "Best That Ever Did It," rapping ferociously over Dilla's "Last Donut of the Night." For purists, some of this might seem like blasphemy, but that's hogwash. Listen to it thoroughly, and you'll wish Dilla had spent more time dealing with commercial artists instead of remaining so unrecognized as the go-to guy for "conscious artists." Of course, some of those thinking-man MCs deserved to be featured on this mixtape as well, and thankfully they're here. When Dilla put out his greatest album, Donuts, three days before he died, the beats were all mysterious and the astral production on the song "Lightworks" was one of the strangest of them all. Most MCs wouldn't know what to do with it, but Q-Tip and Talib Kweli give it justice. Their heady raps and haiku rhymes fit in with all of Dilla's bleeps and MPC-from-Mars production techniques. Other guests on the album include Raekwon, MOP, Jill Scott, and there's even a shoutout from Dilla's mom. Overall, it's a well-balanced left-of-center mixtape that, like all of the best albums this year, is available for free as a digital download. Enjoy.
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