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Dilla Donuts Month: "U-Love"

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There’s way more record hiss and fuzz on “U-Love” than on the rest of Donuts. I imagine Dilla, like most diggers, had multiple copies of the same records in varying condition, and “U-Love” to the “Intro” sound made from the flood-damaged, a few centimeters thinner from too-many listens, scrawled on the fucked-up sleeve “PROPERTY OF THOMAS” or something copies, not the VG-Mint ones.

The fuzz give the tracks an even warmer, more personal feeling and starts to make deterioration and decay explicit, which is appropriate for obvious reasons. What saves this from being a depressive or obvious move is that fact that the conventional “end” of the album is noted as the “beginning” and so, as decomposition becomes more of a musical reality, the album moves closer towards beginning, starting-over…rebirth.

Despite (or in spite-of, or maybe most appropriately, because of) the decay, “U-Love” is one of Donuts‘ “perfect songs” in the sense of it’s this great loop, worked-on, and messed around with until there’s nothing odd or off about it–no “mistakes”, mind the quotes there–similar to “The Diff’rence”, “The Twister”, and “Gobstopper”. That it comes right after “The Factory” and that “The Factory” kinda acts as an overture for “U-Love” is perfect because Dilla’s trying to tie all these strands of sound and sub-genre and everything else together.

There needs to be one of those kinda expensive greetings cards that when you open it up they play a song, that plays “U-Love”. Even outside of the universal sentiment though, this song’s easy for pretty much everybody to get into. Plenty of sounds and clipped voices race around in the background, but there’s no jarring wordless vocals and part-of-a-second grunts, inhales, and exhales, just slightly-touched, super-sincere declarations of love with occasional emphasis (“I really love you…”) from Jerry Butler.


It’s 2006. I’m clutching the wheel of my stepsister’s Dodge Neon, cruising through Downtown Seattle. My then-girlfriend, a professed granola-eater, Devendra Banhart fan and avid conservationalist (what I’m trying to say is that she was a hippie), is somewhat boredly peering out of the window, eyes fixed on whatever buildings we’re passing by. She’s twirling the thick, blonde hair that she only combs twice a week. Donuts is blasting, I’m nodding my head, trying not to space out from all of the street lights shooting by us, and we’re holding hands. Occasionally, I peer over at her and make a funny face to see she’ll notice. Every time, she does, purses her lips, and playfully pokes me in the ribs. A piano and human voice quickly pops out of the stereo. Afterwards, horns start tugging at the heartstrings, and voices in soulful harmony sing, “Just because I really love you.” I start nodding my head a little more as more street lights whizz past us, looking like stationary stars as we’re floating through space or something. “I love you” repeats itself throughout the song, and goosebumps start rising on my arms as I take a lovingly look at the girl sitting next to me. I don’t know what the street lights did to her pale blue eyes, but they looked like they were glowing.

She clinches my hand a little tighter, kisses me on the cheeks, and says, “I like this.”

-Douglas Martin

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

City Paper Noise: The Lyricists Transmittin’ Live EP

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I’ve talked-up the beats of Baltimore’s DJ Excel a bunch of times now (for sampling Stoner Metal,for making the Baltimore Club equivalent of Tortoise’s “DJ’ed”,for making the beat for E-Major’s “Don’t Worry”), and now there’s his collaboration with Port Huron, Michigan’s The Lyricists:

“Although Bmore Original released the Lyricists’ full-length L3 last year, Transmittin’ Live is the Port Huron, Mich., underground act’s first musical collaboration with DJ Excel. Excel’s blueprint is the boom-bap you expect from a crew called the Lyricists, but one of Baltimore’s most ubiquitous beat makers grabs some of club music’s energy and avant production for the EP, too.

The titular track bumps like ’90s New York, as metallic sci-fi sounds pulse and near-subliminal snippets–part Dilla Donuts style, part clipped Baltimore club vocal–of a blues singer tumble in the background. And it’s all brought back to earth by worker-bee rhymes from Illtone and Rym-Benda, and pragmatic scratches from in-house DJ, Haus Diesel.

More than comfortable spitting hard-ass battle raps, the Lyricists’ real success comes in knowing the right time to rein it in and chill-out. On “The Juggle,” Illtone matches Excel’s woozy strings by ungritting his teeth, and dropping the commanding boom. It makes a song about regret (“stress shows in the form of gray stubble”) palpable.

“Bubble Guts” employs their storytelling and simile spouting talents toward nothing more than a hilarious song about, well, taking a shit. The Lyricists trade lines back and forth (“Yo, my palms are sweaty from grippin’ handicap rails/ Droppin’ logs the size of white whales”) and DJ Haus Diesel punctuates the scat-rap with turntablism mimicking the sound of a diarrhea burst.

With Excel subtly stretching the boom-bap rap form to its limits, the Lyricists actively eschew the grotesque cliches of stubborn traditionalist hip-hop. In the past, the group has done some “rap sucks now” kvetching but, here, they trade it in for self-effacing humor and weary tales of maturation (hometown lament “P.H, MI.” and “Grown Up”).”

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 6:38 am

Dilla Donuts Month: "The Factory"

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The songs on Donuts that aren’t soul and funk-based, or twist funk and soul sources so much it sounds from space or something, pop-up every few songs, sending the whole thing off-course. Although nearly every review touches on the emotions behind Donuts, I think the zig-zag approach to “Yo, I’m dying, here’s some music about it” confused many. To me, it’s just realism. Rarely ever are our minds or experiences so calcified.

Had Donuts been a 31-track suite of emotive soul chops and only that, Donuts would’ve won some awards or topped Top-Ten lists because it’d be so easy to contextualize and write about. Donuts‘ genius is that it’s not Johnny Cash’s American Recordings or Lou Reed’s Berlin or My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade–something oppressive and one-note and therefore, oh-so-important and focused–it’s a sloppy celebration of life that occasionally takes-on death and dying. Dilla sticking “The Factory” after the killer run of “One from Ghost” to “Walkinonit” slows-down the meditative momentum the album’s building-up and realistically deviates for some weirdo fun.

This side of Dilla, this electronic, noisy side never really got to develop the way it should’ve and could’ve and a lot of it had to do with the staunch traditionalism of many of his fans. Amplified got dismissed by too many because it dared to be fun and a little synthetic and the unreleased Frank-N-Dank record 48 Hours went even further and probably scared closed-minded label heads–even though it was concurrent with Timbo and all that–because it would’ve scared closed-minded neo-soulquarian smarty-pants hip-hoppers or something.

And so, Dilla interrupts the cumulative effect of devastating soul loops he had going for a downright annoying, squonking, creaking blipping blopping blooping minute and a half. The best part though, might be the way he stops it all except for that tin-can drumming a few times throughout even ending “The Factory” on it, like it’s a count-out for the next track, “U-Love”.


The idea of “Da Factory Mix” is making an attempt at connecting krautrock/post-punk/new wave/hip-hop to J Dilla’s Donuts-era aesthetic. I chose “Da Factory” as a reference for the mix because of its obvious connections to the aforementioned styles.

01. Mantronix – “King of the Beats”
02. J Dilla – “[untitled Dilla Beats track]“
03. The Beastie Boys – “Ask for Janice”
04. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – “Cars”
05. Gary Numan – “M.E.”
06. Public Enemy – “M.P.E.”
07. J Dilla – “[untitled Dilla Beats track]“
08. Richard Pryor – “Acid”
09. J Dilla – “[untitled Dilla Beats track]“
10. Faust – “I’ve Got My Car and My TV”
11. Malcom McLaren – “El San Juanera”
12. J Dilla – “[untitled Dilla Beats track]“
13. Holger Czukay – “Fragrance”
14. Just-Ice – “Little Bad Johnny”
15. This Heat – “Paper Hats”



Dilla is pretty quirky, which should be obvious from the donut theme, and that aspect lends itself to how Willy Wonka these tracks are. Something about slightly cheery yet disaffected singing plus the constant bubbling in the background of “Lightworks” and tic-tac bassline of “Factory” just gets to me. Probably the best appropriation of a commercial jingle since Busta Rhymes’ “Dangerous” in the former, with the latter seeming like Dilla went out to just make the weirdest sound thing he could’ve.


Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 4:53 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Walkinonit"

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-Phaseone “Walkinonit” Remix

I remember when Donuts came out, I had been meaning to check for it but on February 10th, when I read of his passing on the internet, I went out to cop it that day. I enjoyed it on first listen but was a little caught off guard. I was expecting a bunch of instrumentals to rock to out of boredom without having to keep up with emcees. I figured if it sounded like an instrumental Slum Village record, or even a bunch of tracks half as good as “It’s Your World” from Common’s Be, it would be worth the purchase (I also, honestly, was hoping for some open drums to sample). I put the record away for quite some time.

Sometimes I think that anyone who says they “got” Donuts upon first listen, never really “got” it at all and probably still doesn’t. I literally had to listen dozens of time to realize the true beauty and heartfelt soul of the record. At first it sounded messy, disheveled, repetitive.

I still don’t completely understand what it is about Donuts, but one day I realized I understood it as if I had all along. J Dilla has absolutely immortalized and perfected the “instrumental”, or MC-free, hip hop album. The best thing about it is the complete absence of any took-it-as-far-as-it-could-go vibe.

February of 2008, I tried to compile an assembly of producers to remix every song from Donuts on one project, to commemorate the two-year anniversary of his death, to no avail. The result is my remix of “Walkinonit”, easily one of my top-five favorites from Donuts (among, probably, “U-Love”, “Time: The Donut of the Heart”, “Gobstopper”, and “The Twister”. Dilla rolls in his grave anytime anyone listens to my remix, as I have completely gone against everything he sought to establish with “Walkinonit” and Donuts as a whole.

Having been consumed with anger every time I listened to “Walkinonit” for the mere ten seconds (like, what the fuck?!) of a beautiful hook he looped (“ba-a-by walk on by-y-y”), I finally got fed up and chopped up “Walk On By” by The Undisputed Truth myself so I could groove to the hook for a little longer. I added drums and a few other elements to the mix and called it a night. The result is an anti-minimalist, anti-Donut, anti-”Walkinonit” version of “Walkinonit”.


Phaseone is from St. Louis and makes instrumental electronic and hip-hop. He can be stalked at MySpace and Twitter. You can download his album Mad Weight for free here.


When you read ?uestlove’s Dilla ruminations like this or this (Sidenote: ?uest should write a book on Dilla), a recurring discussion is how Dilla had, stashed in the vaults or his hard-drive or wherever, a ton of remakes or remixes or refixes of shit Pete Rock or other legends had done. But out of respect and shit, he never let them see the light of day.

The same way Donuts became a vehicle where he no longer had to worry about “Can someone rap on this?” or “is this hip-hop?” or even like, those unspoken Producer rules for beatmaking, I think it was a way to do these crazier variations on oft-sampled shit and get away with it. He’s not making “beats” in the conventional sense, so he’s not competing with other producers. Dilla found a way to share these refixes of oft-sampled shit like “Walk On By” here on “Walkinonit” (although it’s The Undisputed Truth version, not Isaac’s but still) or Mountain or on the track before “Walkinonit”, “Dilla Says Go”, flip the “Hate It Or Love It” sample source without it being some kind of douchey corrective or producer battle.

“Walkinonit” though, is also one of the most direct tracks in terms of emotionality. It’s one of those where you’re not thinking at all about how it was made, you’re just feeling that flutter of strings and repeated, “Broken and blue…walking down the street…broken and blue”. It describes how Dilla probably felt in the hospital or in a wheelchair on-stage or in the airport and everywhere else. Like damaged goods or something. Not himself. But not an “Oh, poor me” type thing, just, feeling not fully together physically because well…he wasn’t.

When you’re visibly sick, everyone, from lovers and friends to total strangers, treat you very differently. Especially strangers as they both notice the wheelchair-bound and can’t help but think “Wonder what happened to him…” and try very hard to not look or stare and plain old ignore it. “Walkinonit” is a semi-sequel to “Don’t Cry” as it’s similarly inward and saying “leave me alone, don’t worry about me”, in part because he understands the pain and suffering better than anybody else but also because he just doesn’t want to be stared-at or felt sorry for and feel like his very presence affects everything.

The two lines, “walking down the street” and “broken and blue”, come from very different parts of the song and so, this wasn’t “Oh those lines from this song express how I’m feeling”, this is almost songwriting here–even if it’s only two lines–or at least, cut-up or magnetic poetry style expression.

Written by Brandon

February 25th, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Dilla Says Go"

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The most visceral sounds in “Dilla Says Go” come through loud and clear: Numerous Dilla vocals, an encouraging “it’s alright…” sample, a perfect female vocal chopped to only a whoop, that beautiful bells/vibes melody. But underneath it all, that which the rest of the song rises out of, is a mess of strings so tangled-up and smooshed into one another that they whine, wheeze, and glow, like a malfunctioning something or other. A walking, growling Godzilla toy with only a little bit of battery left, groaning instead of growling, stumbling instead of walking. But there’s something beautiful and warm in the malfunction.

So many songs on Donuts have these deeper crazier layers of noise or like tertiary brilliance that’s the weird result of Dilla super-short chops. A sample cut so short and tight but still with the one piece of something that sticks out or sounds bizarre. A quarter second vocal grunt with a 1/8th second guitar strum at the tail-end that just couldn’t be removed…Dilla’s brilliance was leaving it there, not declaring the song at that point unsample-able. He made it work.

The leftovers of “Dilla Says Go” come from speeding-up and looping the bells from “Rubber Band” by The Trammps. But what wonderful leftovers! This devastating, heated glow of strings, stretching and morphing unpredictably. But then, Dilla loops that unpredictable five or so seconds of noise and it becomes a like sub-loop to the main bells loop. A happy accident.

“Dilla Says Go” or, at least the scrunched-up strings all the way in the background, is basically Glitch music. Really, a lot of Donuts might qualify as Glitch in the sense that it’s music based on chance and accident resulting from digital sources. And like the best Glitch (Oval, Nobukazu Takemura’s Scope, Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Jim O’Rourke I’m Happy and I’m Singing…), these weird jarring accidents, this pushing the instrument or computer or sampler to the limit, results in oddly affecting, incredibly warm music.

Brian Eno’s work–which I compared Dilla to yesterday–is similar in that it has an odd distancing effect at first. It might even seem intellectual, but once it grabs you, the sophistication and conscious (at times a little too conscious) artistry of it wraps back around and it becomes incredibly emotional and visceral. That’s why Donuts is often dismissed as “just a beat tape” or even boring; it’s needs time to wear at your ears and brain.

“All profoundly original art looks ugly at first.”-Clement Greenberg

There’s a halfway point to meet Donuts though, especially on “Dilla Says Go”, which stacks easy-to-get-the-first-time samples and melodies atop the sampled-strings Glitch soundscape underneath. The bells are full of hope, looking to the future, and Dilla’s voice dropping delighted ad-libs builds upon that hopefulness. Dilla literally says “Go!” but he’s also making a tune that encourages and inspires. You want to build a house, or start that diet, or give your parents a hug, or start making dope beats yourself, and buy your girlfriend the expensive NIKEs she’s been looking at online…Let’s go!

That “it’s alright” vocal though, and the drone Glitch whatever whatever underneath it all sounds inward and melancholy, touching on a core sadness or concern about what’s going on that even the most gleeful moments in life can’t totally eschew.

Written by Brandon

February 25th, 2009 at 4:59 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "One for Ghost"

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When I lived in High Point, North Carolina with the woman who gave birth to me, she used to beat me. And I’m not talking about the “get a switch from that tree in the middle of the yard” beatings, or even the “sit you over my knee and tag that fanny” beatings. I’m about about real beatings. Belts, clenched fists, bottles, I’ve even gotten beaten with a crutch before. These were no regular whoopings, either; my mother would use the same force she would if she were to get into fisticuffs with linebacker. I always feared most when she brought out the belt, because she would get a really tight grip for maximum damage. Scouting her moves like a boxer reviewing tapes of his opponent’s matches, I committed her fighting style to memory: Usually, she’d take one or two shots to the legs, and start going for the face. To prevent unwanted questions at school about what happened to my face, I’d cover it with my arms and take the lashings across my chest and stomach with all of my might. She’d get tired of handing out pain before I’d get tired of taking it, so afterwards, she sent me to my room. I’d close the door, take off my shirt, open the window, and sit in silence and darkness.

“One for Ghost,” with its unsteady vocal sample and downtrodden soul loop, reminds me of those moments of quiet time I had after getting beaten for forgetting to wash my dishes or when I got cut from the football team, the wailing siren that opens the song being the audio equivalent of the cool air cascading over the throbbing welts on my scrawny, pre-teenaged body. “When I was bad” are the words that repeatedly hover over my head, making me convinced that whatever I had done, however miniscule it was, was bad.

-Douglas Martin

Douglas Martin is Fresh Cherries from Yakima, a one-man fucked-up Folk project. It’s also his blog. Douglas is also one half of 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers.


When “Whip You With a Strap” showed up on Fischscale, a couple months after Donuts (and Dilla’s death), it was crazy. Maybe I’m dense, but before “Whip You With a Strap” came out, I thought of “One for Ghost” as some weird, mysterious title I didn’t and maybe wasn’t supposed to understand. Oh! That Ghost.

Of course, once you get the title, it’s sadly beautiful. “One for Ghost” sounds like a bullet-point on an informal will. The way you imagine who’ll get all your comics or your record player if you, G-d forbid, pass tomorrow. Doling out a beat with such an overt and public dedication seems like one more way that Dilla knew how close he was to the end.

And as the Dilla tributes and stuff kept coming and keep coming (the new MF Doom album will have “Lightworks” on it), the quality and even questionable co-option of Dilla’s music didn’t even matter. That might sound a little wrong in light of all the estate problems going on with Dilla’s music, but the way shit from Donuts continues to pervade rap albums and mixtapes seems perfect. Like it’s pre-copyright music, or ancient unlicensed melodies, fit to use and abuse in any way you see fit. The ultimate gift from Dilla. Music that can’t run out. It’s weird–it doesn’t seem bullshit or anything, you don’t even think twice, when you hear that Doom’s gonna be rapping on “Lightworks” even though Kweli and Q-Tip did it last year.

It’s a less mannered, more casual version of Brian Eno’s Music for Films (1978), which Eno sent-out to filmmakers for possible use however directors pleased–because it was cheap to use, some of the music shows up in the Corman-produced Rock n’Roll High School–or even just Eno’s whole idea of “ambient music”. Donuts, because it the one weird time you heard the unvarnished “instrumental” first, survives and stands above any rapper rhyming atop it–you can ignore the opportunists and treat the really good versions ( “Abaracadabra” which is Jay Electronica over “Gobstopper”, “Whip You With a Strap”) as great bonus material.

Must be the relative proximity to Donuts‘ release that makes “Whip You With a Strap” inextricably tied to “One for Ghost”, but it’s hard not to talk about them together. Part of it’s that we know Dilla made it or at least gave it to Ghostface and it’s also because Ghost’s one of the only bat-shit crazy spitters that can wrap rhymes around a track from Donuts and make it work, but there’s a cool series of interactions between sample-source Luther Ingram, Dilla, and Ghostface.

Dilla grabs what’s really an odd and weirder emotion from Ingram’s “To the Other Man” than is conventionally expected in soul music, loops it, and changes the pitch, making it almost some weird androgynous croon. It’s a hazy memory that’s not exactly negative, but something closer to objective. While the original and Ghost’s raps contextualize the whipping as instructive and even formative, Dilla’s loop is matter-of-fact. Dilla’s of the generation wherein beatings were especially common and just kind of accepted, but no less damaging in some way or another. Most kids get beat or slapped or punched at some point in a way that’s not, all-out abuse–but’s not not-abuse either–and it doesn’t mean their parent’s awful, but it also doesn’t mean that shit doesn’t lodge in your brain for life (and a quick prayer or whatever works for you to any and all the victims of all-out abuse).

“One For Ghost” sounds like that foggy sad unfortunate memory you recall but try not to over-analyze. Not angry or aggressive, it’s one of the most relaxed joints on Donuts, just wounded and vulnerable. That it’s quickly shuffled to the side for the propulsive joy of “Dilla Says Go!” complete with Dilla cheers and an underlying soul mumble that says, first-thing, “it’s alright, I’ll get over it baby”, seems an accurate musical portrayal of moving past minor trauma.

Written by Brandon

February 24th, 2009 at 4:58 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Gobstopper"

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-Zilla Rocca “Continental Breakfast” (“Gobstopper” Freestyle)

Since I rapped on this beat back in ‘06, I’ve heard Redman and Rah Digga get on this joint via Dilla-inspired mixtapes and blends. It’s kinda cool, but I always thought the horns were melancholy and not triumphant nor funky. I wrote some personal bars that ended up using on another beat that never was released. I remember someone said in an interview after Dilla passed that he was so slept-on as a producer because the primary focus of most hip hop producers is to make “anthem” beats, and I think “Gobstopper” is the perfect example of why he was so dope. He could do club shit and rider jawns, but a beat like this sounds like his pain…and it’s still knocking.

Zilla Rocca is co-founder of Beat Garden Entertainment, blogs at Clap Cowards, is one half of Clean Guns along with Nico the Beast, and one half of 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, with another (soon-to-be) Donuts Month contributor Douglas Martin.


Dilla uses the same song (“To the Other Man” by Luther Ingram), for “Gobstopper” and the next track, “One for Ghost”. This is important because in some ways, it’s a violation of beatmaker code, and even though every law set-out by producers gets violated by the best and worst, there’s something especially “egregious” about using the same–however dope–sample on two different songs, right next to each other.

But it works because Dilla’s not flipping something super-obvious and his producer magic, like actual producer shit (processing, mixing, shifting, quantizing or not-quantizing, in short– beyond looping and chopping) makes both song’s shared sample source unrecognizable.

It’s an example of Donuts‘ rarified freedom–like Dilla just totally went for it, not caring if he re-used a sample (he puts the songs next to one another to further highlight that he doesn’t care), the same way he’s not even concerning himself with “beats” in the sense of “stuff to be rapped-on”…just doing whatever he felt like it, so that it’s all just music, or better yet, plain old sound, as those half-vocals breathing or creeping through might attest. Many have found ways to rap on stuff from Donuts–because anything can be rapped over, but it’s clear that these songs were made without rappers in-mind.

So, fun but depressive horns flare-up and fall down and just keep going and going (everlasting I guess), occasionally punctuated by a homesick squeal that could be a balloon deflating or some home-made fireworks launched by your tipsy dad on the 4th or maybe even some rickety leftover RPG careening across the air–if “Anti-American Graffiti” is still on your brain. My vote’s fireworks though, because it has that kind of fun but exhausted, weary warmth of like the six o’clock news on a Saturday, or the theme from Cheers or TAXI or something. The ideal soundtrack for a re-reading of Dan Clowes “Like a Weed, Joe” from his Caricature collection.

Tired and worn-down, but not from apathy but for lack of energy expended on something worthwhile hours before. That wandering bassline’s almost bouncy, trying to get the rest of “Gobstopper” up a few pegs, but never over-taking the rest and sounding more like the part of the song that didn’t get the memo that shit’s melancholy right now.

Maybe there’s something to the round-ness of a Gobstopper connecting to the circular junk-food imagery of a donut beyond just Dilla being into junk food (heartwarming stories of ice cream in the hospital) but I’m not sure how to parse it out and I think it’s one of those moments on Donuts that just feels full of crazy caves of meaning for people close to Dilla or just Dilla himself.


I wonder if Dilla titled this track “Gobstopper” as a nod to Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Maybe it was his way of saying to all the beat jacking Slugworths out there, you can’t get this recipe. And even if you could, you couldn’t flip a sample like me even with directions. The loop in this beat is everlasting in its own right. It hardly changes up and yet I don’t care and I bet a lot of people feel the same way. He found a great part of Luther Ingram’s “To The Other Man”, and extended it, long enough that you were satisfied and short enough that you didn’t get bored.


Written by Brandon

February 23rd, 2009 at 3:46 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Thunder"

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Nervous, jagged, jittery, but weighty too, “Thunder”s imminent something is palpable and so, it isn’t paranoid–a fairly easy feeling for music to invoke–this is something stranger and harder to grasp…between regularity and change or something. Dilla captures that moment, which is a weird place to freeze a listener, even if only for a minute. Frozen when stuff’s not exactly right, but hasn’t gotten wrong yet either and could maybe get better or better if only because it’s some kind of change. Anticipation, I guess. Sort of.

Those clips of announcers saying “Ladies and gentlemen” but never completing the announcement, leaving you hanging, is what “Thunder” feels like. Like being at a show and you’ve been waiting forever and the soundcheck guy slips onto stage and you know it isn’t the performer but a soundcheck guy means the show’s a little closer to starting. It’s waiting for an order of chicken wings and your Order # is “53″ and you see the line of people who’ve been waiting longer than you but somehow Order #47 getting called chills you out for a few more minutes but the call of Order #48 guarantees–in your mind, at least–you’ll be stuck in Miami Subs & Pizza for eternity. Dilla, why conjure up a song that makes anybody feel that way?

The fall-back on death and dying would be rote if it weren’t you know, the most universal and important conceit a human being can work-out, but this seems like a song about the ugly place between knowing you’re sick and dying and actually dying…uncomfortable, odd, a long-ass fucking tease with an ending that’s as disagreeable as the wait.


“Thunder” is a monster. A fifty-four second monster. It’s “Godzilla is approaching the city! Run for your lives!” It’s the action-hero-strapping-on-all-his-guns-and-putting-his-shades-on montage. It’s the-action-hero’s-boots-are-slowly-approaching-and-the-bad-guys-are-sweating-because-he’s-gonna-blow-them-all-to-shit.

There’s that line in New Jack City where Ice-T says, “I wanna shoot you so bad, my dick’s hard!” That’s “Thunder”.

I always remembered this thing LL Cool J said to Fab Five Freddy in an interview just after Bigger & Deffer dropped, talking about the beats he likes: “You make that mad grill. You know, you scrunch your face up. You’re like, ‘Damn!’”*

That’s “Thunder”. Shit is a monster beat.

*Also in that interview, Cool J said “All I ever wanted was: record in my hand, record on the radio. Not the fame, not the groupies. Just: record in my hand, record on the radio.” Of course, a mere couple of years later he also wanted to be in a movie with Michael J. Fox, in a Halloween remake, and that movie where he gets eaten by the super-intelligent shark.



“Thunder” never pops-off. It’s all build-up and anticipation, clunking along, giving you ample time to prepare or escape the impending wrath. It’s aptly titled in that sense. Mom tells you to get out of the pool or come inside at the sound of thunder, becauses lightning and a storm aren’t far behind. “Thunder” just cuts-off though, it never gets to explode, the lightning of it never flashes, the rain never pours, you never get to see/hear/feel that wrath because Donuts just keeps going, changing moods, letting you feel all-freaked out for 54 seconds but only freaked-out because a pay-off would be too easy and Dilla’s trying to capture like every single little and big thing that he’s ever thought or felt or heard on a record. Go somewhere else for easy thrills and scares, it’s onto “Gobstopper”.

Written by Brandon

February 21st, 2009 at 5:03 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Geek Down"

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-Zilla Rocca “Artichokes” (“Geek Down” Freestyle)

This joint is so mean! I was glad that Ghost eventually found his way on this beat. I was half-drunk when I loaded this joint up and just went in waaay past my bedtime. Not too much thought behind it–just following that filthy ass acid guitar and the breaks smacking around my speakers. I think I did this joint in like 5 takes–back then I used to do punches, which is something we NEVER do anymore, but I remember wanting to knock this all out in one take. Listening back now, I had waaay too many words on that shit!”

Zilla Rocca is co-founder of Beat Garden Entertainment, blogs at Clap Cowards, is one half of Clean Guns along with Nico the Beast, and one half of 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, with another (soon-to-be) Donuts Month contributor Douglas Martin.


“Geek Down” follows the super-serious combo of “Don’t Cry” and “Anti-American Graffiti” but doesn’t come with those tracks’ personal and political intensity. It’s something lighter, more fun. The focus here’s aesthetic and sounding dope and all that. Sticking the emotions to the side, letting you take an extended breather before it gets heavy (“Gobstopper” to “Walkinonit”), pauses for fun weirdness (“Da Factory”) and then gets really heavy (“U-Luv” to “Intro”).

These diversions are not only musically important in terms of pacing and avoiding same-ness, but reflective of real life, where even the most devastating or tragic of situations lets-up for a laugh or geek-out. And “Geek Down” does that, by sounding really goofy–the opposite of “Anti-American Graffiti”s frustrated fervor or “Don’t Cry”’s enlightened acceptance–and also, getting super hip-hop head nerdy diving into rap emphemera by messing with one more hip-hop sample staple: “Funky Drummer”, Mountain’s “Long Red” and now, “U.F.O” by ESG.

Really, “Geek Down” is a cover of “U.F.O”. The simple Dilla thump drums do the work of the original’s rudimentary dance bassline and he replaces the eerie siren’s prominence with some goofy wah-wah sounds and flanged-out scrapes of guitar, all the while, letting that oft-sampled siren noise flick around behind it all, even making it a little more evil by speeding it up into some Bernard Herrmann Psycho strings sound shit. On Dilla’s version though, the siren’s the oddball–it isn’t the basis for the creepy vibes as it is on the original–as rubbery psychedelics wrap around the siren and almost negate its menace.


A few days after submitting my contributions to this 31-day celebration of Dilla and Donuts, I was listening to the album again, as it had grown on me since I was first made aware of Brandon’s theme about a month or so before. I initially didn’t write anything about it, since I figured, being Joseph’s blog handle, that he’d be all over it and being one of the more straightforward and traditional rap album beats on the record, there’d be a slew of great write-ups on it. But once “Geek Down” came on, I felt the urge to do something I’ve done only two other times in my life, once in the 8th grade and once last year during a non-conservatory studio production class at my college: Write a rap.

Had I the ability to rap, I would’ve probably JSmooth-ed this and recorded it, which would’ve been great, I think, but I don’t really have the confidence in my abilities or, primarily, the voice to rap so I just left it as a long verse I worked out one night (I think a Saturday or something) with “Geek Down” up on my iTunes on infinite repeat. I rarely ever try to rap, though I tried in 8th grade and immediately gave up, feeling that my voice sucked for it. 9 years later, I regret that decision and every year that goes by I wish I had at least practiced rhyming more, especially after the high I got off working out the structure and create a story while the beat looped.

Like most writers or musicians, as soon as I finished it I immediately felt protective and self-conscious of its quality, wanting to revise it and make it sound more normalized or distant of cool, but goddamit I’m 21 and this ain’t a High School open mic so it’s time to man up and be genuine.

The following rap takes up the entire length of the “Geek Down” instrumental beat from Donuts, is inspired by just how ill and screw-face-inducing it is, and borrows liberally from the flows of Ghostface, Cam’Ron, Q-Tip, and Rakim. It’s also completely unmetered in terms of cadence so it will take a few reads to parse out the flow, or lack thereof:

Chop shop rollin’
on a bike that was stolen
taking off after bonin’
perforations in her colon and
Best believe I’m not holdin ‘
while swollen
Cuz me nah feel like jakes ‘84′n
like I’m Prole’n-
-tariat lariats, sell fake comics at the Mariatt,
dudes callin’ up, always give ‘em cheap
Chinese variants

My connect is Stan Lee the 3rd,
gully Islamic dude with a last name preferred and
Shrimps is jumbo, son, that’s my word
Fucks with my meals get Saddam’ed like Iraqi Kurds
Strict canary chop lollipop comatose birds
In my barbershop? Doo-doo wops in faux-fur
Generally electric when I roll up on a couple new Hers
Middle squid-diddle then they wake up caked up goldust and myrrh
Goddamn! Brochure is for sure ink crafted couture
Step past the candy-swirl to where the pure product’s procured
Sniff the atmosphere, B. I got forever in-stores
3rd the 1st, Jim, Bruce, Coles, Yancey and more

Right next to frying pans I sell them new Iron Mans
I tell them Dilla fans, yeah man, I miss that man
I hear that “Geek Down” all I say is “Dammit, man”
Show stans Donuts, “Fan, you gotta have it, man”
MP3 or CD, I say “Fuck it, fam”
Come through youse and your crew that’s the fuckin plan
Unwrap saran then jam to the one-man band
Breakin’ atoms, soul-controlling down at the Motherland

Headphone sessions as my makeshift elegy
For dude who blessed minds with MPC weaponry
CDs, tees and tapes, comics sold especially
“RIP” James sure he’s dropping beats heavenly


A few things…

-The always supportive Tom Breihan went more than out of his way to mention Donuts month on Pitchfork, in this news on a new DOOM album called BORN INTO THIS.

-E-Major submitted his tribute to Dilla in the form of a celebratory verse and then some over “Mash”. Check it here or on the “Mash” entry.

-Tonight, E-Major plays a Dilla tribute show along with Black Milk and others:

Written by Brandon

February 20th, 2009 at 8:13 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Anti-American Graffiti"

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The assignment was simple in its design. Brandon Soderberg asked if people would like to create a drop or several commemorating a track from Jay Dee’s album Donuts. I already knew which song I wanted to discuss. I love the track called “Anti-American Graffiti”. I also knew I wanted to make a video that used the song as its soundtrack. I hope I did a good job of transferring my thoughts on the track with the images that I clipped and pasted together.

The song is almost like a marching anthem in the way that the drum kicks keep their time. I see an army stretching across the horizon goose-stepping in time. It isn’t a human army though. Well, not all human. They are cyborgs. Stepping on human skulls strewn about the landscape. Even though the human life has been muted there is still something lively about these man-machines and their march. This is the sad future of this planet.

In the last few weeks my thoughts have been on the war that the U.S. is still embedded in across the Middle East. From Afghanistan to Iraq and the tacit support and endorsement in Gaza there is so much blood on our hands as American citizens. I understand that everything that I enjoy as an American comes from the real sacrifice that is made by the U.S. military personnel. All the while their rate of suicide skyrockets to unimagined heights. Can the president wrest a control of this precedent?

When Jay Dee passed away in 2006 the country was almost three years deep in the tumult of Iraq and only six months removed from the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Jay Dee saw a world that was folding in on itself as if it had eaten a cosmic Black hole. Maybe we deserve this fate? At some point someone will have to take the weight and bear the burden for all of our complicit sin. With each generation the penalties and interest increase. Will our grandchildren even know what sunlight looks like?

Rest in peace James J.Dilla Yancey. Donuts forever.

J Dilla – Anti-American Graffiti from dallas penn on Vimeo.

-Dallas Penn

Dallas Penn is Dallas Penn. He’s also an Internets Celebrity. You already know this.


Love the way Dilla basically makes Wolfman Jack “freestyle” over this one. As the song starts, there’s a couple of uh, huh grunts like a rapper in the booth on Rap City trying to catch the beat and go off.

In a way, Jack drops some gems on you too: “everybody’s waitin for the million dollar jackpot”, “…end of the world all over again, man”, “Whose gonna take the responsibility?”, “too much too soon”. If you think about it, it’s not all that different from the gutteral speak-raps of M.O.P–or Young Jeezy–and similarly like, secretly brilliant.

This isn’t everyone’s favorite DJ, the iconic DJ of rock n’roll, accompanying your favorite tunes with goofy radio fun, he’s broadcasting from a bunker somewhere, warning all those fucking boomers what they’ll only realize later and never take responsibility for anyway…It’s Monk on the cover of Underground. It’s Super Soul from Vanishing Point. Not Wolfman Jack mythologizing himself in American Graffitti but the Wolfman turned into Mister Senor Love Daddy from Do the Right Thing. The more frantic, even wearier sequel to earlier track “People”. No longer “My people…” followed by a command, but “My family….my history” and all the ugliness that entails, whether your family was doing shit or getting shit done to them.

Written by Brandon

February 19th, 2009 at 7:33 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month