J Dilla

Rap producer James "J Dilla" Yancey, who died of lupus at age 32 in February, didn't yet have the industry clout of peers like the Neptunes or Kanye West. But he sure had their respect, having worked with everyone from Ghostface Killah to Janet Jackson. After this spring's instrumental-based Donuts helped fortify Dilla's reputation, now comes The Shining, which Dilla had reportedly almost completed before his passing. His associate Karriem Riggins put a few (very few) finishing touches on it. Indeed, The Shining feels like pure Dilla, steeped in the man's trademark incorporation of R&B soul with sharp beats. Just don't expect any type of funereal solemnity; tracks like "E=MC2" and "Love Movin'" percolate with supple, forceful beats that inspire guest rappers Common and the Roots' Black Thought to spit out some lively rhymes. There's little doubt that dying will help raise Dilla's profile. However, the uninitiated may find The Shining's love jams and underground hip-hop purity too modest to be spectacular. To judge these 36 slender minutes as a grand posthumous summation would be unwise. Rather, consider Dilla's stellar final offering as nothing more than an unwitting, bittersweet ending for a talented guy who was just getting started.

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