First the good news: the dysfunction surrounding Dilla’s estate seems to have been resolved. His old attorneys are out the door and the Probate Court of California is overseeing the dispersal of royalties to his surviving heirs — his mother, Illa J, and his two children. They have also revived his never-realized Pay Jay imprint and are using it to provide us with a new stream of material from the vaults. I imagine and have been told that there are plenty of leftover donuts. Right now, Delicious Vinyl is peddling its own project of never-before released beats. If you figure that James Yancey had a ten-year prime and probably made at least a beat a day, we could be flooded with material until his daughters are old enough to rent (or buy) expensive whips.
But there is a down side, We’re going to have to steel ourselves to the fact that to paraphrase an old Boondocks strip mocking Puffy, much of this is squeezing life out of death. I imagine that the classic Dilla beat tapes floating around will be collected and mastered and reissued with liner notes. This will be excellent news for people who have never been able to get a proper handle on the sprawl. There will also probably be a constant trickle of material that was previously passed on by rappers and Dilla. The odds and ends will come to light. It won’t tarnish Dilla’s legacy because let’s be honest, that’s inviolate. But it will be tough not to listen to everything and get a little disappointed when it doesn’t meet the blinding light of our best memories.
The first single from The Diary is similarly contradictory. On one hand, I enjoy it. It’s always nice to hear a new/old Dilla beat, but I could probably do without the interpolations of “Fiesta” and “Pass the Courvoisier.” It feels very early 00s, so much that it should come for sale with a throwback jersey. What I like about this is that it deadens the image of Dilla as underground purist. He liked modern R&B and was supportive of his friends attempts to get this money. We forget that Busta was wearing dresses to the MTV Awards and still kicking it with Dilla Dog. The underground-mainstream binary was never as monolithic as people made it out to be. “The Anthem” also features rapping from Frank-N-Dank, who, well, yes, you know, let’s just leave it unsaid. This is cool. I enjoy the Spanish-sounding guitars and the drums take me back. But it’s ultimately forgettable, which cuts against the timeless nature of Dilla’s best music. The stakes are low, but that’s understandable. He isn’t around to keep raising them, so we have to make due with what’s left.