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Dilla Donuts Month: "The Twister (Huh, What?)"


Once “Twister” gets going, after twenty seconds or so of mysterious sample collage-ing, it’s a weird falling-apart loop of classic break-beat drumming and some odd whistle-squeak melody that you want to play out for twenty minutes instead of just the next minute or so Dilla gives you. Not quite a funk groove, there’s something ramshackle but also robotic about it, closer to Krautrock motorik minus that sub-genre’s attempt to remove the messy human element.

“Twister” crushes you, amps up the energy and sounds new again, maybe like the first few times you heard break-beats in music outside of hip-hop, say “Funky Drummer” or the “Amen” break in a Jungle or Rave song or even some vaguely contemplative “electronica”. The simple ugly loop of “Twister” is similarly revelatory for moving beyond genre expectations or maybe, occupying many genres at once. With the right ears and lack of context, Four Tet or Boards of Canada sound like beats in need of a rapper and Dilla becomes the slept-on genius of American trip-hop.


The first time I heard Donuts, I thought there was something wrong with the CD. (I had the same experience the first time I dropped the needle on The Swans and the “Bring the Noise” 12″, playing with the 33/45/72 RPM switch.) My next reaction was, ‘What the fuck? Somebody shoved Pete Rock into a blender?’

There’s a restlessness in Dilla and Madlib’s work: the incredibly short tracks, too hyper to build them up; the clever playfulness; the boiling over of ideas and samples. It’s like how Pynchon or Zadie Smith write, always too distracted by their fizzing brains to stay fixed on the story.

To me that’s the drawback of Donuts: while there’s no doubt moments of joy and transcendence, there’s so much discordance and lack of structure, lack of building coherence and growing a track into a song, that ultimately the segues between one sample and another become choppy. For me, a successful track builds and grows and the best loops are the ones where you could stick it on repeat and not get sick of it.

“The Twister” is one of those loops. Dilla begins with a classic James Brown sample, then kicks in another of his sounds like someone’s spinning the radio dial mixes, before settling into a crazy funky loop and the classic ‘Huh? What?’ sample (which right now I can’t remember what it is…Busy B?). And a telephone ringing for some reason. For no reason whatsoever. There’s that playfulness, that never-leave-a-good-beat-alone thing, again.

But the drums kick—he’s playing with “The Funky Drummer” again. The sample is a trunk of funk. The background sample gives it that party-over-here effect, the sense of the song floating over the city, backyard to yard. (“Thunder” is the other monster jam on this LP for me.)

It’s interesting to me how much Dilla has become one of hip-hop’s venerated martyrs. He’s the only cat I’ve ever seen whose digital bootlegging is frowned upon (aside from Stone Throw’s efforts), even before the argument about his moms and kids came up. (I mean, ODB left behind, what, 22 children or something?) But it’s his lack of self-mythologizing, braggadocio and overall grill…this was the quiet dude who was too shy to go to the Grammys. (Didn’t he wait outside in the car with his moms or something?) Yeah, we all knew kids like Dilla. But we don’t usually heroize them.

I think Madlib is locked into his format, and is gonna pretty much do the same thing from here on in. With Dilla, I think he would have progressed into a really interesting artist. Flying Lotus is just Dilla with glitches; by 2015 I think Dilla woulda been creating some late-period Coltrane, next-level type of shit.


Ellmatic’s blog is here full of dope remixes and mixes and stuff.


Beat-making is collage, so it’s inherently messy and rough, but producers are judged on their ability to make that messy-rough aspect of it close to seamless; It’s a kind of hard-headed obsessive task that’s weird if you step from outside of it for a moment. Dilla’s career though, is a trajectory towards comfort and celebration with the rough, ugly, and off-kilter.

His earliest work while still fascinating, is indeed brilliantly tight and together but as he moved into the 2000s–and got knowingly closer to death–he didn’t give much of a shit. What he screams out on the “Intro” of Ruff Draft was his mission statement and his work began to flake-out and sound off-the-rails. Not the dependable thump of Fantastic Vol. 1 or the hyper-precise electro-funk chops of Amplified, but the New-Wave on a dying record player of “Nothing Like This” or the third-world rickety steam-machine of Ruff’s “Shouts”. “Twister (Huh What)” is a little bit of both; most of the track’s that ridiculous killer loop–made a little messy by all those voices and noises–but the beginning is a discordant mess: A variety style game show drumroll, an announcer saying “Would you please join me in welcome-in-ing…the Temp-tings” (or something like that) followed by an audience going ape, and then a live version of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life”. And then the song actually starts.

What’s the deal with that announcer? Did he stumble over his words? Was this a clip from some Temptations performance and Dilla cut a few syllables out? Dude’s certainly not introducing Stevie Wonder who we hear a few moments later.

In Dilla’s “last” interview for Scratch he said this:

“I used to listen to records and actually, I wouldn’t say look for mistakes but when I hear mistakes in records it was exciting for me. Like, “Damn, the drummer missed the beat in that shit. The guitar went off key for a second.” I try to do that in my music a little bit, try to have that live feel a little bit to it.”

Donuts is all about that “mistake” and an announcer stumbling over the word “welcoming” fits right in line with that. That or Jada’s laugh or even Ad-Rock’s sarcastic grousing, are all these weird off moments, where something accidental or too-real’s going on. Like an extra in crowd scene that’s staring at the camera or a little kid reading his letter to Santa Claus and stumbling over his own words. Or isolating that “Huh What?” from whatever song it’s from and making you think about every attitude-filled syllable.


What gets lost in the shuffle of all of the neo-soul/R&B/conscious rap sort of stuff Dilla got lauded for was when he pulls shit like this, a Stevie Wonder sample faking out into a hard as fuck breakbeat with what sounds like a kid jumping on a trampoline and constantly shouting about it and a high-pitched didgeridoo. Beats like this and “Geek Down” thankfully belay the boho, patchouli and dreads image that gets tagged onto a lot of people involved in the mellower sounds of 00’s black music, like Dilla.


Written by Brandon

February 16th, 2009 at 2:41 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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  2. … mr.rGuess what, you can try to miracle 50,000 into 2 mloilin, but it doesn’t work. Most of those assholes couldn’t find their way out of the south. As for black crime, fuckers like you created that Frankenstein monster hundreds of years ago. You deal with it. But there is a side benefit to that. You are scared of us. If you could find one instance after 1965 and not in a Tarantino film, where a “angry white man” put an uppity black in his/her place, I would be much obliged to see it.Remember tookie?? Obama??Black people are like real, live X-men. you keep trying to cure us, but you can’t stop us, we have what the kids call “swagger”, and almost every one of us, from the grimiest thug to the President of the United States, strikes fear in your pussified heart. Redlining didn’t stop us, “minimally adequate” didn’t stop us, mandatory minimums didn’t stop us, Ronnie Raygun didn’t stop us, Not even the unholy trinity of the Middle Passage, Slavery, and Jim Crow stopped us. That’s why if you watch the NFL later today, you will super bowl championship-winning black coaches but no white tailbacks. Katrina stopped ya’ll.The x-men can swim,you negros can’t.We began the human race, and we are the next step in the evolution of it.To bad you negros ain’t getting any smarter.Why did only 50000 people show up for something that has been planned for a year?Never let the facts get in the way of your rants negro.Why was it over in 4 hours?Why did the teabaggers KNOW not to fuck with the Black family Reunion at the other end of the mall?Unlike you negros,we are not violent and we can control ourselves.We use Planned Parenthood,hispanic gangs,and the bloods and crips to kill you negros off.Because each in every one of you, deep in your heart, is a white tailback. You don’t exist anymore.When you negros hit the field today remember you are doing exactly what the white man tells you to do.


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