J. DILLA, "The Shining"

A vocal companion to Dilla's instrumental sleeper on Stones Throw, "Donuts," which was also recorded in the hospital, "The Shining" documents the totality of who Jay Dee was as an artist and performer

Lupus is a horrible disease, one that literally eats you alive and stands as one of the absolute most tragic ways to die. And knowing that the late J. Dilla (aka Jay Dee) spent his most painful last days in a hospital bed making music is a testament to the unquenchable love he had for his craft. A vocal companion to Dilla's instrumental sleeper on Stones Throw, "Donuts," which was also recorded in the hospital, "The Shining" documents the totality of who Jay Dee was as an artist and performer.

The man not only lays down some of the smoothest, freshest beats of his decade-long career, he also flexes his chops as a vocalist, musician and MC. And while his mic efforts on previous releases like "Welcome 2 Detroit" and the Jaylib project suggested he should stay behind the boards, a track like "Won't Do" shows his growth as a lyricist. He primarily sticks to production, however, letting the talented array of guests lace magic over his outstanding beats. The opening cut, "Geek Down", might feature an obnoxious Busta Rhymes in full rah-rah mode, but its all uphill from there. Chicago hip-hop phenom-turned-Gap pitchman Common turns up twice on the "Resurrection"-esque "E=MC2" and then on the ultra-smooth "So Far To Go," which also features the long-awaited return of D'Angelo to the world stage.

Other highlights include "Love," featuring a surprisingly mellow Pharoahe Monch, and the "Dime Piece" remix featuring new school Detroit crooner Dwele, whom I would've much rather heard singing over tracks like "Baby" and "Jungle Love" than that dude Guilty Simpson (along with Madlib and MED, for that matter). But the album's finest moments are the instrumental interludes, shimmering glimpses of genius that ultimately provide the gravity of just how much Dilla's presence will be missed in the hip-hop community. -- Ron Hart