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Dilla Donuts Month: "Mash"

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A favorite acronym/saying that I’ve encountered throughout my education is “K.I.S.S.” – “Keep It Short and Simple” (or, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, if you enjoying insulting otherwise-innocent people). That’s what Dilla did on “Mash”, with a piano melody that could probably be replicated by an experienced piano player with one hand behind his back. I’ve never played the piano, but I have played Guitar Hero (somewhat obsessively), and I think I could move my fingers quickly enough to match each note of “Mash” in time. I doubt anyone would’ve guessed that such a melody, switching from high pitches to low pitches, and back, and back again, could’ve sounded so captivating… but, I guess that’s what made Dilla Dilla, and the rest of us not Dilla.


Buhizzle is part of the Metal Lungies crew and the organizing dude behind their awesome Beat Drop series, which you know this whole Donuts Month is just a rip-off of…


Hearing “Mash”, I’m reminded of Mobb Deep’s “Survival of the Fittest”. The oft-talked up piano sample that even Havoc claims to not know from where he got it, has always sounded to me, like it’s from some 50s or 60s classical recording. Before Classical recordings got really mid-brow and clean and just sounded sick and angry—closer to the original music really—and were made for Classical nerds first and foremost.

That crisp, distinguished power to the “Survival” sample’s chords just couldn’t come from anything pop or soul-oriented. Sampling the bombast of Classical’s a rap trope, but I can’t think of a lot of beats outside of “Survival”—if indeed I’m right about the sample’s roots—and “Mash” that use the ominous calm of a classical composition instead. It underscore’s the knowing doom of Mobb Deep’s lyrics and it brings a sense of care-free wimsy and tough-minded concern to “Mash”.


Imagine “Mash” being played in the clubs. Maybe a club decades ago, a club filled with men and women dancing in tuxedos with pants that rise too high, and dresses that end far too close to the floor. But dance is what that voice from Frank Zappa’s “Dance Contest” orders. I can picture the MC in this club, dressed in a stale blue suit, with a white frilly undershirt beneath the jacket. I can see the people on the dimly lit dance floor looking at each other, wondering what the fuck is coming from the speakers. Sounds kinda like someone playing piano while on LSD, during an earthquake.

Well, maybe not. But it does sound out there, different, and that is because mash is what Dilla does to the sample. He slices Galt MacDermot’s “Golden Apple Part 2″ into more parts then the pianist ever made on his own (which wasn’t too hard to do).The distortion, and unstable feel of the whole song is what attracts me to it. Here is a song made out of the sound a Canadian pianist created when his fingers hit the ivory and J Dilla makes it undeniably hip-hop. Go get your girlfriend, seriously. Follow the orders of the sample, go get your girlfriend. And if she says “I’m not feelin’ it”, get a new girl.


Johnathan’s blog is Elitish.

-E-Major “Mashin Mix”

E-Major is the CEO of Undersound Music. His album Majority Rules was my top hip-hop disc for last year.


If not for the speedy but somehow chopped-and-screwed too Lou Rawls flip that gives the track a final boost into hyperspace, “Mash” would be the ideal intro for the next track, “Time: The Donut of the Heart”. Those maudlin but bordering on jaunty piano plinks and plonks transition so easily into the wah-wah sound melody that dominates “Time”. And so, once again, Dilla confounds what we expect—and what would musically “work” the best—and throws one more odd, disruptor into Donuts.

Think about that, he throws in this messed-with Rawls vocal to make the tracks not segue into one another. Rawls isn’t dropped in there to cushion an awkward transition or mask a weird edit—like a glass breaking or gun-shot sound you often hear at live rap shows–it’s there to turn a perfect transition into a jarring one.

Constantly avoiding cohesion, making sure to send each group of tracks in some different direction and then back again, is especially interesting given the obvious, over-arching coherence of Donuts. It’s designed to loop on and on forever, the end is the beginning, but within that beautiful, harmonic loop, there’s a constant stream of change-ups and interruptions. A pretty good reflection of life and living: A sense of structure beyond what we comprehend but within that structure, any and everything can happen.


This feels like a standalone piece, like something that Dilla made with no intentions of anyone ever rapping on it, and where the pneumonic aspects are covered by the sample of what seems like stage banter during stand-up.



J Dilla presents his samples on Donuts like someone would on a mix to a friend. Less typical hip-hop production tropes, more trying to hype some weird, slept-on stuff from his record collection. “Mash” houses my favorite samples on the album. The piano sample, from some Galt McDermot song that I heard on YouTube, is so ridiculously gentle. It sounds like the keys are floating by on a light train. This is my favorite Donuts beat to hear while driving because I love pantomiming the piano playing. I dislike Galt McDermot’s music in a big way, but this sample makes me question my stance. The way Dilla presents the sample strips the queer, cliché hippie-bullshit image I associate with Galt McDermot’s music and presents it in this thumping, gauzily euphoric context that, in a way, puts me in the mindset of someone who might’ve sincerely enjoyed some Galt McDermot back in its heyday. A big part of my experience with Donuts is Dilla recontextualizing music, juxtaposing it with itself until everything is on the same level. A soul cover of “Light My Fire” is as heartfelt as an Isleys song, and Beastie Boys are just as awesome and obnoxious as M.O.P., and 10cc is just as hip and avant-garde as Frank Zappa, etc. (Thankfully it’s all filtered through Dilla’s impeccable taste, so we don’t get a flaccid, Girl Talk-like assemblage of Ma$e over Mozart or whatever.) It’s impossible to obtain objectivity, but it’s fun to try, especially when you’re blunted.

The Frank Zappa sample speaks to my first two years of college. I had different roommates each year, and there were two consecutive Zappa-obsessed ones. Frank Zappa’s music is the most hit-or-miss I’ve ever heard. But both these guys seemed to love it all, which provided a great immersion for my taste. Also, they were both smokers who must’ve felt guilty about smoking alone, so I was frequently smoked up. Like with a lot of overly-long and wanky music of the past, that accelerated my understanding and appreciation of Zappa. My favorites are the obvious, Hot Rats kind of albums. My least favorite is stuff like the “Ring of Fire” cover. But I feel safe in saying I enjoy–or can at least respect–the majority. Besides the jazz-fusion stuff of Hot Rats, my second favorite Zappa tunes are the spoken word tracks on his live albums, and even parts of say, Joe’s Garage. Usually accompanied by appropriately cartoony music, tracks like “Billy the Mountain” can keep me sitting in awe for twenty minutes straight. It doesn’t even have to be Zappa talking, it can be Flo and Eddie too. For some reason, I’m way into listening to people speak and tell stories. I’m all about a good audiobook or standup comedy album or interview or podcast or radio show or whatever. I love when someone has a compelling enough voice that can cause my scalp to tingle (does anyone else know that feeling or am I crazy?). These Zappa tracks get me in just that way. The way Dilla lets the sample of Zappa’s voice play out… I can’t help but feel that he’d know what I’m talking about.

I just now pulled this comparison out, weeks after I all ready decided to write on “Mash”, but here goes… Some of Dilla’s similarities to Zappa:
• Died young
• They could make artsy/heady stuff alongside sex or joke tracks
• True mastery comes out behind the mixing boards
• Sense of humor way obvious in their tracks
• Distrust and provocation of governmental authority
• Showed appreciation for an absurdly vast amount of music
• Similar surnames
Biggest difference: Zappa didn’t smoke; Dilla did. But Zappa’s musicians did even though he didn’t “allow” it.


Joseph’s blog is Geek Down. You can check out his music–and preview his mix for “Da Factory”–here.


One of the most exciting by-products of Dilla’s fracture and re-structure of McDermot’s piano is that in the process of chopping individual notes, there’s bits and pieces of the other instruments in the background of the sampled part and it puts this gossamer glow of hesitant sound—hesistant because Dilla’s chopping stops them mid-note—behind the piano and on-point beat and it has it’s own kind of weird counter-rhythm to it. It’s like a few tracks here and there by Dilla where the hiss and fuzz of a record’s used as another percussive sound.


Just as the album as a whole is cyclic in many ways, and just as the album is full of chaotic questions only to be followed by soothing answers, so too is “Mash”. That first hard piano hit in the loop is so off and sounds so wrong. As the beat progresses, the same hit is cleaned up all of a sudden and becomes so easing. It cycles like this a few times.

He is basically trying to prove that even though something may seem unsettling, it can still be quite peaceful. This fits in perfectly with the life/death theme so often discussed with Donuts. Either “Don’t fret. It sucks to lose someone, but with time you will become comfortable again”, or perhaps “When you suffer a loss it may feel like your life is falling apart, but the person you lost finally found peace and is in a better place”. The sample being symbolic of the death itself, he finds both chaos and peace in the same place.

When I first heard Donuts, this wasn’t one of the ones that stood out to me right away, but after becoming familiar with the album, it quickly became my favorite for some time.


Written by Brandon

February 10th, 2009 at 2:11 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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