New J Dilla comp reveals the producer's electronic side

Record review

Nov 4, 2015 at 1:00 am

J Dilla

Dillatronic Vol. 1, 2 & 3

Green Streets

Techno has never been the mainstream force in Detroit (and certainly not the rest of America) that it is in Europe. I'm not saying it's not hugely popular, or doesn't have millions of followers. But you aren't seeing too many local clubs paying thousands to fly techno DJs in on a weekly basis, or paying thousands to ones who live here and deserve it. While many of the backpack and boom-bap heads aren't checking for the latest Atkins or May greatest hits, that doesn't mean that techno's presence hasn't influenced Detroit's hip-hop culture.

Enter J Dilla, one of the greatest music producers and hip-hop beat makers ever born to this earth. Some of his most memorable tracks were sampled from techno. Think about his dawdling synthesized banger, "Raise It Up" from Slum Village's Fantastic Voyage Vol 2. The track was a perfect slowed-down sample from Daft Punk member Thomas Bangalter's 1998 hit "Extra Dry." Think about his tracks "E=MC2" and "Nothing Like This" and you'll understand that while J Dilla wasn't a raving fan in the crowd at the warehouse, he was definitely a note-taker in a classroom.

And this is all leads us to Dillatronic. It's Dilla's latest posthumous release, sanctioned by his mom (affectionately known as Ma Dukes). There are no standout tracks or anything that feels like a completed song — this is more about genius electronic riffs and loops, and some "what coulda beens." Though there are 40 tracks, this isn't a techno mixtape. The one- to three-minute tracks seem more like breakbeats than anything else. The only analogy that makes sense is that it's like staring at the pencil work of a Basquiat before the paint was applied. Now, there are some 808ish joints that hit hard, some familiar percussions, and some moments that are simply, "J Dilla being J Dilla." But overall, this feels like the least accomplished of the posthumous albums that have been released.

So what does all this mean? It means Dillatronic is much more valuable to Detroit and the history of hip-hop and techno than we might be giving it credit for. It means these 40 tracks give us a peek inside the head of a legend. It means Detroit tech's influence on hip-hop has been somewhat underrated and maybe even underappreciated. It means the only thing as important as the man behind the SP 1200 is what influenced and inspired the man behind the SP 1200.