“The greatest” hip hop producer’s work translated for a 60-piece orchestra.
Louis Pattison 2011
Timeless is the sort of sumptuous project that confirms hip hop is very much into its middle age. Presented as homage to "the composers and the arrangers who have influenced the genre in the most literal and profound way", this CD and DVD set showcases the late J Dilla’s compositional skills – others feature the works of Mulatu Astatke and Arthur Verocai. No Soulja Boy here, then.
While Astatke’s music is made for the big-band treatment, Suite for Ma Dukes is a more uncertain exercise. Since his death in 2006, the stoned, off-beat hip hop productions that James ‘J Dilla’ Yancey crafted for the likes of De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and Common have been elevated to almost mythic status. Recreating such characterful beats with 60-piece orchestra could feel like an exercise in futility.
Still, composer and arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson approaches the songs with a drive and passion of his own, and the likes of Slum Village’s Welcome 2 Detroit and Hoc n Pucky get a stately sort of makeover with clarinets, brass and a full string section.
With Dilla still very much at the forefront of the hip hop scene, with anniversary nights planned for what would have been his 37th birthday in February, Suites for Ma Dukes both celebrates his work, illustrating just how it's endured, and how well it can be translated into a wholly different musical language. "The greatest," is simply how Common remembers him, and it’s easy to hear why.