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Dilla Donuts Month: "Lightworks"

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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.



“Big Booty Express”, that unreleased Frank N’Dank album, “Over the Breaks” off The Shining all rush to mind when you listen to “Lightworks”. This is Dilla finding an outlet for some of the “ol’ Terminator shit”—as he said of “Big Booty Express”–because a lot of his fans and apparently, record labels too weren’t quite as keen on thudding Germanic scientist-in-a-lab funk as they were thumping grooves that could at least be passed-off as “Neo-Soul”.

What’s crazy though, is that he messed with a song from electronica pioneer Raymond Scott the same way he would the umpteenth dusty soul-side. Because Donuts is about connections and moving beyond the obvious and all that and so, he sees how the same musical brilliance found on a rambling pressure-cooker political jam like Kendricks’ “People Hold On” isn’t all that difference from Raymond Scott’s wandering electronics set to an over-enthusiastic chanteuse.


At one point last summer, I was on the subway headed home from some party, drunk and stoned out of my fucking mind, letting my dart across various beer ads, and yelling at this asshole male model dude sitting across from me, “you’re looking at me like the only people who study arabic wanna blow up buildings!“ as a decent number of people looked on. As I saw the people eyeing me suspiciously and tried to stay still and stare at the dumbfounded Derek Zoolander looking dude, I felt this kind of desperate paranoid unease, a feeling I’m reminded of whenever I listen to “Lightworks”.

“Lightworks” is pure freakout music. It starts out relatively calm, with a semi soothing and semi-really-fucking-creepy old school commercial jingle, but as soon as that singing starts to switch from ear to ear, those weid ass afro-electro drums show up and that first siren blasts, you know you’re in for a fucking trip. Those sirens in particular get me, for most of the album they’re these long slow connectors, bringing everything together, yet here they seem shorter and faster and coming from all different places at once, and finally that message of panic! panic! that’s implicit in every siren sound becomes super-explicit and bothersome as you hear these rapper’s voices yelling, about to start, only of course they never do, and that tension of waiting for a start that isn’t coming just builds, even as you’re constantly distracted by all these other sounds coming at you from various places in your headphones.

There’s also something really old school about the track, the way that voice and jingle make you feel like you’ve wandered into the Coney Island of a hundred years ago, and it’s at night and black and white and its the day they electrocuted the Elephant and you don’t know what they’re gonna use this crazy new electricity technology for next, but you can’t escape because there are too many people you have to push through to make it out, so you run wherever you can, lost and terrified. Or maybe it’s like stepping into the climax of The Lady From Shanghai, watching a wall of mirrors full of dudes with guns shooting at a wall of mirrors worth of old school blonde dames, never comfortable or knowing what’s real.

But it doesn’t even have the finality of that scene, it just builds and builds as the woman’s voice comes at you again, this time faster and chopped up, still bizzarrely confident in her belief in whatever this fascinating and horrible lightworks shit is, all while weird ass electric farts abound assault your ears, segments of sounds that should be longer but are unnaturally cut off or start in the middle and then all of a sudden there‘s this quick screeching high pitched descending arpeggio and it’s over.


Jordan’s blog is Suckapunk.


You know, Madlib and El-P have also used shit from Manhattan Research Inc.. The slowly-growing use of these records, especially from Dilla who by the time he got to Donuts knew people’d be looking for every record he flipped, seems like an attempt to construct some new or alternate history of hot breaks. Moving away from crate-digging, Manhattan Research Inc. came out for the first time in 2000. And although the music’s old and wonderfully bizarre, it certainly isn’t obscure. It can still be ordered or found with a $50 or so price-tag at any moderately cool record store. That he follows “Lightworks” with “Stepson of the Clapper” an exercise is screwing around with a tried and true break is telling.


It’s hard to believe it, now – much less believe that I’m reminiscing about it – but there was a time when I walked city streets to work, or, rather, rode a subway car part of the way from my apartment and walked the rest, rain, snow, or shine. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I could certainly afford to drive that distance, then, but the tunnel-to-sidewalk constitutional provided a modicum of fresh air, exercise, and an opportunity to take in the essense of the city as lived by the masses in a way that my day-trading desk job rarely allowed me. Day-trading. Day-trading! Say those words! Say ‘em. Whisper them back to me. I know the discipline seems foreign and exotic to your ears. Another generation or two and the profession will be forgotten altogether, a linguistic relic of a bygone age – an antique – when streetlamps illuminated corners at dusk, when streets bore capes of asphault, when everyday people worshipped little glowing screens they could fold up and slide into coat pockets. But that’s a digression – you and I, we were talking to, not from, and those I’d meet en route, though generally I didn’t meet many, because as passersby we were worker-drone arrows propelled at office-space targets. No-one spoke. Unwritten rule. But at the end, there, another edict slid down the psychic pike, again unwritten, and it read this way: what the fuck. And so it happened that on one fine autumn Tuesday in November 2010 I found myself ensnared in conversation with a trenchcoated gentleman who claimed to be in government service:

Me: “Good morning.”

Him: “Good morning.”

Me: “It’s tough to say that with a straight face anymore, isn’t it? Shit times.”

Him: “I know, right? For a long time, a very long time, until just recently, I refused to come to grips with the fact that everything is a hair’s breath from falling apart. My work was suffering, I was a jibbering wreck, friends stopped returning my calls, but last week something happened.”

Me: “Something happened?”

Him: “Something happened. Now, a few days prior, I’d finished reading Joseph Heller’s Something Happened for the first time.”

Me: “That’s some coincidence.”

Him: “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know about that.”

Me: “But the something, the something that happened to you, the shift-”

Him: “Yes, the shift. The shift in perspective. The lights.”

Me: “The lights?”

Him: “When my analyst and I discussed this last week, I referred to them as auras. You know, I see you out here on these streets every morning and evening, and it seems we share a route, more or less, but to be honest, I devote more of my attention to the sky than to the path I’m travelling, because the skies glow. It’s more pronounced at night.”

Me: “A glow?”

Him: “A glow, a heavenly glow. It’s – it’s like a combination of the Northern Lights and that scene from Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas where Thompson’s high and paisley shapes are moving on walls. It beckons me, and I know that’s a word that’s fallen from fashion, but that’s what the glow does. It’s so inviting. So warm.”

Me: “Maybe aliens are reaching out to you. And I’m not mocking what you’ve experienced, mind – just a bit of conjecture between total strangers – but if I were your analyst, I’d have prescribed you something right there on the spot.”

Him: “That actually happened, kind of. After I’d finished describing the things I’d seen, up there, and the all-encompassing sense of peace and tranquility, and how I sleep on my roof, and how I installed a video feed that allows me to watch the sky from my Blackberry pretty much all the time, when I’m not slaving in service of empire, he smiled broadly, and, was kind enough to allow me to grab a handful from the bag of psychedelic mushrooms he’s been gobbling down more-or-less nonstop since his 401K tanked back in the fall of 2008.”

Me: “I’m looking, man, I am. But it’s just a sky to me right now. Azure blue. Some cloud wisps, maybe a hint of smog.’

Him: “You can’t just look, friend, or stare. You have to… gaze.”

-Raymond Cummings

In Raymond Cummings’ view, the future’s so bright that we should all be wearing athletic cups. His blog is Voguing to Danzig.

Dilla chopped Raymond Scott’s “Lightworks” up so thoroughly that he got the female voice to say “light up the spliffs”. And just in case you thought you misheard, he makes her say it again. And then he throws in a Mantronix siren immediately after, like when Funk Flex drops a bomb on a particularly large NY rap record. This is Dilla making the MPC his playground, the pads are his monkey bars and other producers just can’t hang. He’s having fun, it’s Jordan on top of his game, Tiger in a red polo, Jay-Z when he can “feel the magic babyyy”.


Written by Brandon

February 13th, 2009 at 8:35 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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