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Dilla Donuts Month: "Two Can Win"


Everbody–including me–thought this was the Jackson Five. That especially upfront, killer voice sounds like the soulful squeaks of a young M.J, but really it’s Dilla doing all kinds of crazy shit to another family soul group: The Sylvers.

More “alternate history” type stuff, focusing on another group of soul-shouting blood relatives, reminding you soul music goes deeper than Billboard Charts and lazy 70s-Soul compilations. The same way Dilla mixes Motown, Detroit’s music, with the less-known Detroit Emeralds and at times, hints towards Detroit Techno. How “Light My Fire” is based on some strange psych-soul cover of The Doors’ classic or that later track, “Walkinonit”, has roots in an Undisputed Truth cover of “Walk On By”. Dilla uncovers a missing Jackson Five classic by riffing on another group entirely.

The original “Only One Can Win” is slower, on a half-reggae vibe and it sounds like Dilla went into “Two Can Win” with a copy of The Sylvers’ “Only One Can Win” in-hand, thinking “What can I do to this to make it sound just like the Jackson 5?”, then cut the record into a bunch of pieces, started screwing around with speed and pitch-shifting, and really deed it.

As usual, the by-product of the vocal manipulation reaps subtler rewards. The way the drum-circle groove percussion of the original turns into a punk funk cowbell or one-of-those-fish-things-you-rub-a-stick-across freakout–Like the breakdown in the Bar Kays’ “Holy Ghost”. The way the word-less coos slice through the track rising and falling like a shout from the center of a maelstrom. The hyper-immaculate strings that triumph in the background and also tangle up inside of one another and then, politely fall back. Bubbling bass gets bubblier. Patient drums turn confident.

Upping the energy of the original song and correctively re-naming it, rejects the bittersweet, hard facts of life typical of soul music–”only one can win your love”–for something more hopeful: Two can win. The song’s title, in direct contrast with what’s said in the song, seems like some optimistic, uphill battle to negate cold, ugly reality. Two plus two does not equal four Sisyphean-type idealism in the not-gonna-happen which becomes affecting in its hard-headed ignoring of the impossible because it’s the kind of leap of faith, just-keep-going mentality you need when you’re dying or even just down and out and hopeless.


Two can win? It makes me wonder, who is the second person? Regardless, I choose Dilla and Dilla. Like a redundant Dylan. “Two Can Win” sounds to me like the perfect track to accompany a video clip of Dilla’s face pasted on Usain Bolt’s body during his Olympic coming out party. I could see Dilla right now, so far ahead of his competition that he’s looking back with a grin as wide as the records he tore apart with his MPC. Hey Timbaland, DJ Premier, oh, I almost didn’t see you Kanye.

All of this going on as The Sylvers sing that “only one can win your love and you must choose me”. To me, the placement of the track is perfect, a little past the half way point, here is song that demands that you question who you love. And the first time I heard Donuts, question I did. I questioned who my favorite hip hop producer of all time was. Out went DJ Premier, in went Dilla. And I can’t say I made the wrong choice.


Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 4:27 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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