Despite a catalog that includes seminal solos and timeless collaborations, patterns suggested that J Dilla's new disc would be a disappointment. Why? Because as is evident from the abuse of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G.'s unfinished recordings over time, that's what posthumous rap albums seem to do. Add the controversy of Dilla's royalty checks going to a cryptic "estate" instead of to his mother to pay off the late producer's numerous medical bills (he succumbed to lupus in 2006), and things weren't looking good.
Fortunately, Jay $tay Paid covers all bases. The executive producer is Ma Dukes (Dilla's mother), and the disc was arranged by legendary producer and Dilla mentor Pete Rock. And the loving care is apparent. J$P has the track-to-track cohesion one would expect from such masters of the LP format. Rock organizes the disc as a radio station's mix tribute, using a sea of unreleased Dilla instrumentals and a crop of emcees who Dilla either worked with or was likely to seek as a partner. Die-hards may recognize some of these beats from Internet leaks, but Rock's assembly keeps them fresh. Only four of the album's 28 tracks exceed three minutes — a tendency that Dilla showed on his swan song Donuts LP, and a testament to the way Dilla swiftly progressed from one musical styling to another.
While the guest spots on Jay $tay Paid aren't all showstoppers, none of them stops the flow. "Reality TV" finds the Roots' Black Thought cleverly name-dropping television shows, while hungry up-and-comers like Detroit's Danny Brown and L.A.'s Diz Gibran tear apart the spacey "Dilla Bot vs. The Hybrid" and the funky "Make It Fast (Unadulterated Mix)." The L.A.-bred Blu and Lil Fame (the latter of Brooklyn duo M.O.P.) don't serve tons of the dexterous rhymes or boisterous bars they're respectively known for on "Smoke" and "Blood Sport" — but they still expertly pair with the tracks provided. Established hometown heroes and labelmates like Phat Kat, Frank N Dank, younger brother Illa J and DOOM also make solid appearances.
Jay $tay Paid plays like a tribute instead of an album by the late producer. But that's how it should be. Chock-full of unreleased Dilla treats and cameos from those who respect the cause, this effort doesn't damage a Detroit legend's legacy. Even better, it bolsters it.
William E. Ketchem writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.