You may not recognize the name J Dilla, but if you’re a fan of quality hip-hop, you’re probably more familiar with the man's work than you realize.
Dilla, also known as Jay Dee for much of his career, was a phenomenal producer who made beats for artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, De La Soul, Common, Eryka Badu, Ghostface Killah and Talib Kweli. He was also a founding member of Slum Village, though he eventually left the group, and he recorded an album with Madlib in 2003 called Champion Sound
. Champion Sound
wasn’t as big a smash as, say, Madvillain, Madlib’s 2004 collaboration with MF Doom, but it was a loose, fun record in the spirit of Quasimoto’s The Unseen
Sadly, Dilla suffered from lupus, which destroys your immune system, and he was forced to finish work on Donuts
while in the hospital. He did finish the album, but he died of kidney failure just days after it was released.
A tragic story, yes, and I’m sorry for taking up to much time to explain background information, but it needed to be said. And it was.
Now we can move on.
First off, Donuts
is an incredible album. Its made up entirely of instrumentals, the longest clocking it at just under three minutes, but its unbelievably consistent and has more passion than 99% of the hip-hop albums released today.
Dilla’s style could be compared to Madlib’s, since both were heavily influenced by jazz and both love sampling the most obscure records possible, but its will also remind listeners of Kanye West.
The biggest difference between Dilla and West, though, is that West is all about turning samples into mega hooks and rapping about how goddamn magnificent he is at everything. Dilla, on the other hand, seems perfectly happy remaining in the background letting his beats do the talking. He rapped at times, sure, but it was usually more for fun than selling millions.
There isn’t a bad song on this entire record, so there are numerous highlights, “Workinonit," for instance, samples 10cc’s “The Worst Band in the World" and will have you dancing in no time. It’s a playful track, as is a majority of Donuts
, but it isn’t so catchy or hook-heavy that you’ll grow tired of it after several listens. In fact, if anything, I think I dig this song more each time I hear it.
Other highlights include “Stop!" and “The Diff’rence," which both revolve around old funk samples, and “One for Ghost," which Ghostface Killah fans will recognize as the beat from Fishscale’s
“Whip You with a Strap." J Dilla produced the track for Ghost before he died, but I guess he still wanted an instrumental version on his own album.
is a hell of an album. It’s fun, unpredictable and has an incredibly high replay value. The only thing that stops this from getting a perfect score is that I don’t give those away easily and I don’t quite feel prepared to go that far. But it is definitely
worth checking out and I couldn’t recommend it more.
For me, Donuts
proves that Dilla would have eventually become a household album. Now, as it often works, he’ll likely find greater fame dead than he ever did alive.
When you see the latest issue of “Scratch" magazine in newsstands and notice the Roots wearing Dilla T-shirts on the cover in honor of their fallen friend, you’ll now know the story behind the photo. And maybe, while you’re out, you’ll track down a copy of this quality release. You’ll be glad you did.
“One for Ghost"
Final Score: 4.5/5