Hints abound on this long lost vocal LP of the esoteric sample-obsessed style that would characterise Dilla’s death bed opus Donuts. Originally intended as the follow-up to debut Welcome 2 Detroit, The Diary showcases the musically voracious approach that characterised Dilla’s whole career. Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ gets remoulded as feel-good anthem ‘Trucks’, and Kansas’s ‘Nobody’s Home’ gets twisted into the heart wrenching ‘So Far’. Such unexpected sleights of hand reveal a man intent on challenging the self-reflexivity of hip hop long before the shadow of death crossed his path. Without Dilla paving the way, it’s probable that DJ Dahi wouldn’t have sampled Beach House for Kendrick Lamar’s trap classic ‘Money Trees’, and throughout The Diary Dilla’s sample choices serve as a reminder that the best music always comes from thinking outside the box. Lyrically the album feels a little prone to hip hop cliches (Frank N Dank’s “smoke a doobie with a cutie”) but often it’s the result of Dilla’s collaborators. Some of his own bars are fire, such as early anthem ‘Fuck the Police’ – as much a tribute to Ice Cube’s penmanship in NWA as it is to Dilla’s own disillusionment as a young police cadet. But the lyrical gem here is in ‘The Introduction’ which sees Dilla musing upon the cyclical nature of music and where he fits in. Dilla is a rare breed of genius and this album reveals penetrating new perspectives on his artistry.
Buy: J Dilla – The Diary