Whoa, I’ll get over it baby….
(“Dilla Says Go”)
It’s that time of year again, folks. Today (as well as the entire month of February), hip hop heads worldwide respectively celebrate Dilla Day and Dilla Month in remembrance of highly influential and prolific hip hop production genius J Dilla, also known as Jay Dee; Dilla would have turned 43 today.
On this same day 11 years ago (and just three days before Dilla’s untimely death), the Detroit beat wizard’s magnum opus was released. In the simplest terms, Donuts is a beat tape of short hip hop instrumentals that perfectly demonstrate Jay Dee’s unique sampling and crafting skills. Dilla flips tons of old soul, funk, rock and jazz samples, chopped to perfection and layered expertly with an array of drum sounds and other effects. The 31 tracks are ridiculously short (most are under two minutes), but so much is packed into those little beats that you just want go back and listen to them over and over again; I literally hear something new every time! But as uncontrollably tempting as it is to keep hitting rewind and repeat on most tracks, I shouldn’t even have to tell you that Donuts sounds best when consumed in full, from start to finish; you can do so below!
A certain sense of sentimentality is felt when you consider the fact that Donuts was 1) the last project Dilla would release in his lifetime, and 2) completed using limited equipment while he was hospitalized with the incurable blood disease that ultimately killed him, showing his dedication to the music; a slight concurrent sense of poignancy can be felt near the end of the project if you continue to listen to it in full, as the listener will be interrupted from his or her blissful trance to be reminded that it’s almost over. A lot of these tracks have the power to evoke certain other human emotions (especially when it comes to love and relationships, I feel) or are otherwise open to infinite interpretation, and as such have appropriately been used by various artists after the fact; a few of my favorite examples include “One For Ghost” (used by prominent Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah on the autobiographical “Whip You With A Strap” from his incredible album FishScale, released later that year), “Time: The Donut Of The Heart” (used on The Roots’ Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop This” (also released later that year), this joint incorporates an excellent sample flip of The Jackson 5’s “All I Do Is Think Of You”), and most recently, Nas’ use of “Gobstopper” for his song “The Season” (released in late 2014); additionally, an updated version of the Isley Brothers-sampling “Bye.” would be used several months later on the beautiful “So Far To Go” (featuring longtime friends and frequent collaborators Common and D’Angelo) from Dilla’s first of many posthumous releases, The Shining. The release of Donuts and Dilla’s subsequent death have since inspired countless artistic tributes from adoring fans all across the globe, including (but not limited to) remixes, drawings, paintings and tattoos.
Other fine standout moments on Donuts include the neck-breaking funk number “The Diff’rence” (which borrows the bulk of its musical skeleton from Kool & The Gang’s “Fruitman”), the crazy original Wolfman Jack-inspired “Anti-American Graffiti”, the supremely soulful Jerry Butler-flavored “U-Love” and the penultimate cut “Last Donut Of The Night” (which probably evokes that feeling of poignancy I mentioned earlier more than anything else, in my opinion). But once again, please digest this album in full to feel the full extent of its magic.
Jay Dee had already been around for well over a decade up until the time of his death, having produced tracks for many major artists, including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes and his own group Slum Village, among others. But if I were to pick one definitive J Dilla project, one that I would suggest to a newcomer looking to check out his music for the first time, it would be Donuts. Being the cassette tape fiend that I am, I was ecstatic to see Stones Throw Records officially reissue Donuts on tape in 2014; it just feels right! Also, don’t let the album title intimidate you if you’re super health-conscious; this particular box of Donuts is medicine for your mind, body and soul in every best possible way.
Happy Dilla Day/Month and Rest In Beats James DeWitt “J Dilla” Yancey (1974-2006)