We have all seen those omnipresent Chrysler car commercials with stark black-and-white pictures and the thumping soundtrack provided by Eminem. We get a thumping Eminem anthem with pictures of the hard-scrabble Detroit. It’s a perfectly powered and paired marriage. (Kudos to the marketing geniuses at Chrysler.) They depict the re-awakening of Detroit, the Motor City that has struggled so much during the last generation. It, like many of the manufacturing strongholds in this country, has experienced truly difficult times.
With the auto industry seemingly bouncing back (after a little help from Mr. Obama and the federal government), it would seemingly be an ideal time for a cultural awakening in Motown. (Many would say that the culture never left or it doesn’t require an awakening. Regardless, it has certainly struggled, at least on a national level.) The late J Dilla, with a ton of assistance from his visionary mother and her new record label, provides a soundtrack for that musical rebirth.
Dilla’s new Rebirth of Detroit isn’t all new and it’s nearly impossible to single out any songs on a release that features some style and consistency. This album is undeniably JD. The sounds aren’t new and nothing on here is earth-shattering. At 21 songs, it can feel like a little bit of a chore and might’ve benefited from a little more selectivity. And even if some of the beats here have been heard before, the cast of Detroit’s finest, including Danny Brown and Boldy James, allows the spirit of Dilla to prevail and persist.
The album opens strongly with “Detroit Madness”, which features longtime Dilla cohort Phat Kat. He prosthelytizes on the many maladies facing Detroit while adding “You are the rebirth sound.” His contribution sets a strong tone for the album that follows. Guest verses from Esham, Chuck Inglish from the Cool Kids, keyboardist Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, jazz great Allan Barnes, and Detroit hip-hop collective the Almighty Dreadnaughtz highlight the first half of the album.
Boldy James, who is currently riding high on the strength of his recent Consignment and Trapper’s Alley mixtapes, sounds right at home over a soulful Dilla beat on “My Victory”. (Anyone has read any of my reviews knows what a big fan I am of Danny Brown. Therefore, let this serve as a disclaimer.) Brown proves he can succeed over any time and type of instrumental. We have already him destroy a spacey El-P number and a Party Supplies ditty this year. And now he delivers something insane on “Jay Dee’s Revenge.” It serves as a highlight of the 21-song release.
Now imagine those visionary Chrysler commercials with Dilla’s signature sound. Or better yet, imagine Boldy James or Danny Brown telling us about their city. This album could be that soundtrack. There is hope in that belief, but sadly, there is also regret, since we can’t help but consider what might have been with JD.