Album Review: J Dilla – The Diary

By Jonathan Fuchs, Copy Editor

[Mass Appeal; 2016]

Rating: 6.5/10

Key Tracks: “The Anthem,” “The Shining, Pt. 1 (Diamonds),” “Gangsta Boogie”

A posthumous record is a hard thing to create. While there are albums that perfectly respect a deceased artist’s sounds and ideas (like this year’s tribute to DJ Rashad Afterlife), too many are created just to make money off the performer’s death. J Dilla, the legendary hip-hop producer who tragically died of a blood disease in 2006, has already had his fair share of posthumous records — five in the past ten years, to be exact.

Unfortunately, it looks like Dilla’s estate has run out of material, as The Diary is Dilla’s final batch of unreleased beats. Originally a collaborative record set for a 2002 release, The Diary sees producers like Madlib and rappers like Bilal and Snoop Dogg come together to celebrate the life and career of J Dilla. Though there are some dull moments, The Diary has enough heart to work as a whole record.

The key parts of The Diary are when the balance between production and vocals is perfect. Tracks like “The Introduction” and “Fight Club” have more memorable vocals, while tracks like “Give Them What They Want” present more confidence and energy in Dilla’s production. Tracks like “The Anthem” and “The Shining, Pt. 1 (Diamonds),” however, perfectly combine the two elements to create truly unforgettable songs.

While there are some truly remarkable songs on The Diary, there are some that feel like let downs for such an anticipated record. Tracks like the strange “Trucks” (which samples “Cars” by Gary Numan for some reason) feels out of place compared to the rest of the album, while others like “Drive Me Wild” and “The Ex” are very forgettable and never really feel like true Dilla songs.

Although it’s an underwhelming farewell, The Diary is not a bad Dilla record. There are a handful of bland and strange songs, but the majority of the record feels creative and true to the sound J Dilla was loved for. Despite its shortcomings, this record still helps show that his sounds and ideas will be here to inspire future musicians for a long, long time.

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