Review: J Dilla – Rebirth of Detroit

If you’re like me, your cynical-senses tingle when you hear the words “posthumous release”. Its hard to shake the image of label execs rummaging through an artist’s tapes for anything remotely sell-able, legacy be damned. Well thankfully the newest J Dilla release,Rebirth of Detroit, is no cheap cash-grab.

Posthumous J Dilla releases already have a better track record than those of other artists, and this one also has a little extra going for it. ‘Rebirth of Detroit’ was released with a lot of love by Jay Dee’s own mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, as the first release of her new label, Ruff Draft Records. There’s a conscious effort to direct the legacy and tribute to James Dewitt “J Dilla” Yancey into something forward moving and positive, to showcase the unique flavour of the Detroit hiphop scene and to spark the ‘rebirth of a movement’. Album guests Amp Fiddler, Illa J, Frank Nitt, Chuck Inglish, Boldy James, Phat Kat, Danny Brown, Phat Kat & Guilty Simpson all bring quality performances with conscious writing and solid wordplay.

Over the release’s 21 tracks, the primary style is foot-stomping and hard-edged, including ‘Center of the Movement’ which features an irresistible hook by Pierre Anthony, and the release’s main single ‘Dillatroit’ which uses an intense beat to offset reflective and thoughtful lyrics with an undercurrent of tension. There’s smooth numbers too, such as the cheeky and sleazy ‘Motor City Sparks’ as well as a couple of boom-bap and jazzier tracks like ‘Detroit Madness’ & ‘The Best That Ever Did It’, and although they’re outnumbered by the sharper beats, the overall record is pretty well balanced.

It’d be foolish to go into “Rebirth of Detroit” expecting the kind of quality of Dilla in his prime, or the slickness of another posthumous Dilla release, “The Shining”. Although the production here is beefed up and tightly mastered, there’s a noticeable lack of change-ups and some of the beats feel like 4-bar loops stretched out to song-length. While it doesn’t quite feel polished enough, the emceeing on show and the themes in the lyrics tie it all together enough to be a pretty satisfying listen.

“Rebirth of Detroit” might not be the best place to start if you’re new and looking to get into J Dilla, but the overall approach and quality of the emceeing makes it more than just a fan-service… As long as you can get past the Microsoft ‘Wordart’ font on the cover.

1. “The New Installment” (Intro)
2. “Detroit Madness” with Phat Kat3. “Big Thangs” with Esham
4. “Ride With It” with Tha Almighty Dreadnaughtz
5. “Say My Name” with LaPeace, Moe Dirdee and Seven The General
6. “Detroit Game” with Chuck Inglish (COOL KIDS) and Boldy James
7. “Feel this Shit” with KetchPhraze
8. “City of Boom” with Loe Louis and Beej
9. “Let’s Pray Together” with Amp Fiddler
10. “Requiem” with Allan Barnes (The Blackbyrds)
11. “Do It Right” with Fat Ray, VStylez and Soul Man (A.W.O.L.)
12. “My Victory” with Boldy James
13. “Rebirth is Necessary” with Tone Plummer and Mr. Wrong
14. “DILLATROIT” with Supa Emcee, Nick Speed and Guilty Simpson
15. “Center of The Movement” with 5ELA ft. Pierre Anthony
16. “Pitfalls” with Fat Ray, LaPeace and Loe Louis
17. “Do It For Dilla Dawg” with Illa J and Frank Nitt (CAKE BOYS)
18. “Jay Dee’s Revenge” with Danny Brown ft. DJ DEZ
19. “Motor City Sparks” with Corey Sparks and Beej
20. “House Shoes Was Spinnin” with Quelle Chris
21. “The Best That Ever Did It” with Jon C and Allan Barnes (The Blackbyrds)

Buy