Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Although Donuts has quickly risen into my top ten over this past year, I've always been a little reluctant to write about it. For one thing, J Dilla is probably the most talked about and overpraised hip-hop artist on the internet. There's nothing worse than rushing out the get a heavily lauded record only to be confronted with a wall of unfamiliar, difficult, and underwhelming sound, and I will admit that my first listen to Dilla's masterwork was less than a religious experience. More importantly, however, I haven't yet felt that I have discovered all the gifts that the album has to offer, nor have I understood the ones I have. These are things, however, that I think at this point will not happen for a long while. So I'd better just put in my two cents.

We've heard quite a few definitions of the producer's genius. An off kilter style, out-of-this-world drum patterns, left-field timescale manipulation, deceptively simplistic repetition etc. All of these things are amazing qualities that definitely make J Dilla unique and I am absolutely not against attempting to pin down even the most idolized artist's style. All of these things already make Donuts an amazing album. But I'm not comfortable with the idea of attempting to find Dilla's essence in a specific sound, when he was known for changing his sound so often. If you're looking for an overarching quality that makes a Dilla track a Dilla track, "time stretching" would be an oversimplification. Heck, any stylistic description would be an oversimplification.

I think, rather, that what makes Donuts Dilla's magnum opus is that it best showcases his unheard of ability to express personality through his beats. At this point, he is the only non-vocal pop artist I know of that can really do that. And Donuts is his self-portrait, a deliriously complex and subtle one at that. The Dilla of Donuts is a romantic ("Time: The Donuts of the Heart", "Light My Fire"), a neurotic ("Airworks", "The Twister", "Thunder"), a manic-depressive ("Walkinonit") and most of all a prankster (every song). Many times he's all of these at once ("Don't Cry", "One Eleven", "Anti-American Graffiti"). All of these qualities are expressed through his unique and surprising stylistic methods, but by no means are they tied to them. A stifled vocal in "Time: The Donuts of the Heart" can mean utter desperation while a similar effect adds a self-conscious smirk to a voice on "One Eleven". Regardless, it is pressingly true in this case that any attempt to describe his expressions of personality would pale in comparison to the way that the album shows them itself.

Because of which I'm reluctant to post tracks from the album. It would be hard, and rather incomplete, to not to post them all. But I'm going to do it anyway. Here are as many of my favorites as I can find and rationalize fitting into one post:

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