J Dilla “donuts”
Hello 2019, it’s been a minute since I put the pen to the pad on some reflections . I’m really grateful to have found a blog willing to publish my ramblings .. big ups to JGJR for that . Now let’s get to it .
Dilla is one of my favorite artists ever on wax. I’ve been following him since I got the vinyl of The Pharcyde “drop” , back pre-internet days when production credits had mystique. By the time ATCQ “Beats , rhymes , and life “ dropped In 96 and he was part of the uhmah .. I was a full fledged fan of everything he was doing .
When He passed , I was caught up in some young love & life bullshit and It wasn’t until Mutt dropped “hot lick squeeze” (Rip Dilla ) on Fabios Creative Source label that I became aware he passed and my life was a bit chaotic still for a couple years... so honestly I never got to mourn and process his life and death for years .
Fast forward to 2011/12. I bought an MPC & began to study the GOATS of hip hop and their sampling patterns. I was grabbing every album I grew up on in iTunes and breaking down all the sounds I could absorb and trying to mimic them .
“Donuts” was one of Dillas albums I never truly listened to .
Having a few months experience with loading samples and chopping them , I had a whole new understanding at this time for what he was doing .. and was blown away immediately. Little to my knowledge at the time he mainly did “donuts” without an Mpc . It made sense to me and I began to hear layering from a whole new perspective. I still use the auditory “teachings” he left today anytime I chop a sample , or layer kicks , snares and textures . I could never thank him enough for the lessons he left in this album that were passed down. Big ups stones throw and everyone who helped get this album to fruition while he was in the hospital .. it means so much to me .
Let’s get into some of the records themselves . I’m not gonna break every one of them down ... I’m gonna pick a number of tracks and we will go from there. I think his spirit is telling me to pick my top records .. so let’s go.
0. “the difference “
The fruit man (the fruit man) . Lol every time this record starts it brings a smile to my face . It’s really simple ... yet so complex . I never knew exactly what the fruit man was in it’s significance ? So I’m going off my own belief it kind of symbolizes the guy who’s bringing the fruit , the nectar of the earth to the party. Which is just fun & actually really spiritual.
So the first minute is basically just the that loop with a couple minor variations to the naked ear of a consumer . However to a crate digger .. those layers and chops a few milliseconds off are pure perfection. If you ever chopped a sample on an analog piece of hardware , or midi .. you know what I’m talking about ... it’s beyond Perfect , yet sloppy enough to have that infectious funk . Then it goes into the horns and the “the difference” vocal ... which to me is him showing me the actual DIFFERENCE in his chops and everyone else’s .. originality . Gotta stay original and this record taught me that .. in an industry full of clones . Priceless info , and a timeless beat to go with it . A hip hop classic 100%.
0. “Mash” a strait up flex session in sample chopping perfection. Again so subtle you might almost miss it and the average listen won’t even hear it .. but ask anyone who’s ever chopped samples on an akai Mpc or MPD and their response will be different .
0. Time “the donut of the heart” this beat has been with me thru the best times and the worst and I’ve shed several tears and still get goosebumps to this day when it comes on . I think that he was telling me there comes a time when you realize your time on this planet is limited and we need to recognize and respect this and use the made up concept up time to our best ability . Not much else to say .. a hip hop masterpiece . This tune will resonate thru the infinities.
0. “Airworks” oh man ... one of my favorite dilla beats ever. I’ve dissected this thing well over 100 times and it still doesn’t make sense totally but has been so inspiring. The way he incorporated the needle drops is so sick . I feel like him and q tip had some little “friendly” competition with this as I’ve seen both try it . Dilla flexed on this one , and I think it’s unanimous that he left the final “round” for the world to be the judge . Lol ... sorry tip , dilla got this . Immaculate.
0. “Lightworks” no debate this is create diggers ANTHEM . Many beat makers and producers I’ve spoke with over the years have different meanings they interpret on this one . A big one being its link to weed and creativity . “Light up the spliffs” is one I’ll co sign even tho that’s very debatable. Again this tune set a standard and it’s pure flexing again thru sonic bless .. but I do not blame him .. id have done the same thing . Lol . Classic.
0. “The twister” a very emotional tune. I feel like he was taking out his frustration with not only the state of hip hop but his health and being stuck in the hospital . It’s very mad , which is understandable . At the same time it was groundbreaking and showed he could sample anything.
0. “One 11” is the answer and apology to “the twister” . If you know anything about astrology and ancient numerology , there is a major significance in these numbers. So to me I think he put this record right after “twister” to release emotions and reconnect before going into the peaceful , unifying vibes of “two can win” .
0. “Two can win” it’s actually true , but in western culture we are not taught that young . Especially in sports , business and hip hop culture & industry. Basically this tune let you know that there are no actual winners and losers in the big game of “life” like the great Rosie Perez once said . Lol I’m on a roll with “white men can’t jump” references this week. Get out of that mindset that only one can win and your perspective will change wether it’s personal or professional life . Jay knew this at an early age and he dropped serious gems on this one. The production is super simple .. I feel it’s more of a statement than some grandiose production. But I’m sure many disagree .
0. “Don’t cry” oh man this one gets me every time , it’s gonna get deep . I feel like this was his goodbye note to Ma dukes , j rocc and his closest friends , family and fans. Literally he didn’t want us to cry , but to use his work to inspire and elevate others . Bittersweet perfection . The layering and chops are next level . I’ve dissected it for years and still can’t exactly how he manipulated the sample . It’s a masterpiece , conceptually , technically and on some humanity and spiritual levels.
0. “Anti American graffiti” for me ... a political, personal and professional frustration. “Too much too soon... just what the doctor said “ is a reflection of his diagnosis and feeling like he might not have time needed to get this project out . At the same time we were in a war and jay saw this when he traveled to Europe a few years earlier I’m sure . He knew that we were taking this existence for granted and it pissed him off a bit. So he took the osmands sample (who were this fake picture of what the American family was , at one time ) and flipped it to a mad , sad and important reflection of what the American Dream aka nightmare truly was . Still chilling when you think of where we are today as a culture .
0. “Gobstopper” one of the cleanest sole mixdowns on the album . The chop is Super simple and there isn’t much additional texture , but jay knew that some beats didn’t need much besides a simple loose placement and a loop to ring out in the mix . And that what this tune . The way that screech FX rings out is haunting in the sickest way possible. This tune reminds me of Halloween season and will conjure hip hop spirits forever . spine tingling , Genius. Pure genius.
0. “Dilla says go” literally .. I think jay is saying let go . Let go of any sad thoughts and use this lighthearted beat to let go of negative energy. “It’s alright ... Oh I’ll get over it baby ...” he got over it , so will we . No matter how bad or sad your day is ... dilla let go and let god , and so can we .
0. “Bye” pretty simple as well, bye .. for now . This is making peace with saying goodbye to the earth and this existence , and common understood this on “so far to go” because he knew that he had to take jays goodbye and expand on it . Also this record I’ve seen turn a room of frustration into a room full of good vibes and harmony . Powerful music.
0. “Welcome to the show” being it’s the last tune , it’s showing that first and last are just made up. The end is really the start of something else .. and we’re just getting started .
When I started this write up ... I decided to let the planet speak to me and said I was gonna freestyle a certain number of songs . I started with 7, and that turned into 14 I feel great about . It just so happens this is the 14th anniversary of this hip hop masterpiece , and I can not wait to write again next year and hopefully find some new messages that allow me to teach , learn and spread the gospel of “donuts” to a whole new generation of fans and beatmakers .
Thank you jay , ma dukes and everyone at stones throw who helped bring this thing to the world .
“Keep digging , and you will see the difference .”
⁃ James Yancey Dewitt 2/6/1974 - 2/10/2006