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Dilla Donuts Month: "The Diff’rence"

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Dilla employs a pretty subtle trick here and when you think about the title, it’s like he’s giving us a little winking challenge. It seems like a straightforward loop of Kool and the Gang’s “Fruitman” but if you just zone out to it, it gets kinda trippy. He messes with the levels like he’s turning up the volume fader so that the tail end of each measure is hella loud and exaggerated and then shrinks back at the start of the next bar. It’s a real simple technique that he uses in other tracks too but it’s tight and reminds me of like the ill caricature art of Triplets of Belleville or something.


Quan is the mastermind behind HaterPlayer and just started a column as The San Diego Rap Music Examiner.


The same way we read “Diff’rence” the same as “Difference”–glossing over that missing “E”–do we hear a crazy rearranged Kool & the Gang joint and not dig for the seams. We know we’re hearing manipulated samples but what those samples are, seems less important. They’re not being used as much as they are becoming something else entirely.

Poor and obvious sampling’s got its charms, but there’s something special about a sample so well-flipped, chopped, or developed that you don’t immediately think “What record is this?” One of the slight boner-kills of Donuts was realizing that most songs were just one sample fucked around with inside and out and that this wasn’t some crazy sample-collage.

Of course, that was ultimately something that made the album more brilliant, as it was through subtler, more interesting production techniques that Dilla made those horns and dude shouting “You will see…the diff’rence” sound different enough and also made them cohere (even though they come from the same song). That’s a really bizarre creative loop: Take two parts of the same song, mess around with them so they sound like they’re not from the same song, and then forge them together into a new song.

All this talk about removal and rearranging is especially interesting because “The Diff’rence” is one of Donuts’ most complete-sounding songs. It feels like a composition, the way it rises up and rises down, then shifts into the different parts while smaller samples squeak and purr in the background. There’s just a tighter cohesion to the track—but it’s not too cohesive like “Workinonit”—and even the infamous, obnoxious siren takes on a new context, as it builds up and drips away, like a close sonic cousin of those Kool & the Gang horns.

Around the one minute mark, right before the titular “You will see the diff-rence!” shout, Dilla lowers the volume and like, sends the track “underwater”. It’s basically a dance music trick–especially House music–where the beat doesn’t stop but a thick layer of fuzz rumbles and mumbles the beat, providing a temporary reprieve before it destroys the dance-floor again. Dilla does it on “Move” especially well, right as Tip starts off his “your dubious style…” verse.

But still, Dilla keeps “The Diff’rence” incomplete. It doesn’t cut-off mid-word/hook/noise like a lot of Donuts tracks, but “Mash” interrupts it two or three seconds “too soon”…just as it’s basically fading-out. It’s an eccentric sense of cohesion where somehow if shit actually came together fully, the album wouldn’t work as well.


If I was a game show host, this would be the opening and closing music for everything.



I never listen to Donuts and contemplate my own mortality. Really, I’m not old enough to see my friends slowly drift out of life–gaining some better sense of the world as they move closer to exiting it–most of the deaths I experience are old relatives or friends going out in the conventional “too soon” way (suicide, drug overdose) and that’ll change with age, but I think part of the reason morality doesn’t come up is because Dilla’s working with it on such a personal level. He’s not trying to be universal but he’s not wrapped up in his own death though it permeates the album.

In a way, especially if you gave a person some background on Donuts, it would be the ideal music to provide a person grieving after they’ve lost someone to disease. It won’t help the girl at my work who’s boyfriend hanged himself just a week ago and it wouldn’t have helped me when my best friend shot himself a few years back (and the millions of others stuck with that particularly ugly kind of loss) and it won’t help that kid I used to drink purple with whose brother died of a heroin overdose, but it’d be great for a lot of other people because it’s a dive into the mind of someone really comfortable and accepting of death. Donuts is like The Last Lecture, just not for assholes.

I think Dilla’s using “Fruitman”s hyped-up healthy eating hook (“you will see, the diff’rence!!”) to again, remind friends, family, and everybody else that soon, when he’s gone, you’ll feel that lack. But by calling it “a difference” he’s making it less dramatic, almost discussing it objectively and finding some hope in that objectivity. “When I or anybody dies…”, Dilla’s saying, “it will be different. It won’t be good, it won’t be bad, it will just be different. You’ll see that difference.”

And that’s true after death. It feels awful and devastating and maybe for weeks, months, years after you sleep with the light on or drink too much or just cry a whole lot and it’s pretty bad, but it’ll be better because you’ll gain comfort and become comfortable with that lack—even if it totally sucks—because you’ll persevere and adjust and find some solace in time and life and see the world without your husband or mom or favorite beatmaker as not better or worse…just different.

Written by Brandon

February 9th, 2009 at 4:08 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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