Yes, yes, it’s starting to feel like Hendrix, or Jeff Buckley…and it’s felt that way a while, in fact, as we have just passed the 10th Anniversary of J Dilla’s death (he was just 32). But at least Dillatronic contains some actual magic – and more than that it’s reminders, a series of them, that the glitchy wee loops and smooth-rolling beats that he assembled, cut by hand, have been an almighty influence. Dilla was a big deal in his lifetime, this is no sentimentality and hope for what could have been – okay, there’s some of that too (as there always is) but it’s in support of a handful of albums and key tracks made under his own name and as a producer assisting the likes of Erykah Badu, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest…well, we know the roll call .
Dillatronic can’t have the integrity nor cohesion of Donuts – his true masterpiece released (just) in his lifetime. But at its very best it comes close to some of the parts of that, or at least most closely resembles it, the fragmentary nature, the slick mixture of soul and electro – late-night chill-beats assembled from the parts of other hip-hop songs and mantras (we hear a Beastie Boys shout early on, that’s enough of a memory/evocation of Donuts’ sound).
It’s certainly the best of the posthumous bunch of releases – which is saying something, because even if you have the strongest opinion out on “musical grave-robbing” it would be hard not to tap a foot or nod your head to some of these gentle, clever, subtle nameless instrumentals – as much cues in an ongoing soundtrack that Dilla was building (and is now being assembled for him) as they are finished (beats or) pieces.
Sketches, for the most part, but what’s remarkable to my ears is how they sound ahead of their time having been buried for a decade or longer. This feels like an album a beatmaker might hope to make today.
That’s the best praise I can offer. Nothing replaces the very best of the work he made in his lifetime, but these (extraneous) pieces of the puzzle are worth examining if you ever cared.