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Dilla Donuts Month: "Bye."

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“Bye.” is the formula for most of Donuts‘ tracks rendered perfectly. The clipped voices and expertly-chopped vocals are here, light years beyond voice-as-instrument, pitch-perfect atmospherics, or just obsesso-producer weirdness, they’re incomplete, never-to-be-finished thoughts: “I wanna-”, “I really-” (which is actually “I feel you” but I think made to sound like “I really”).

He really what? He wants to what? Stuff ends. You don’t always get all the answers. Shit’s unexpected. And even when it’s expected it’s still incomprehensible. “Bye.” But he brilliance of “Bye.” is how it’s one of the most overtly death-themed songs on Donuts from title alone, but leaves all the actual feeling to abstract, indirect sounds, so it’s both really strict in its meaning and open to anything.

Sounds to me like one of those ugly mornings on something or other and you’re in a bad place sadly recalling when you were five and like, Bravestar action figure entertained you instead of being on somethingorother but it’s not self-loathing that envelopes you but some weird nostalgia that just sends you back to being five and using your grandmother’s kitchen floor as a desert, so it’s just sort of awesome.

“Bye.” is also lying in bed, under the covers, half-awake with the person you love.

And yeah sure, in those half-alive drums and rambling half-samples, is life knowingly escaping the body, clasping friends’ and family’s hands for the last time.

Or it’s “sitting on my stoop in NyC with my boyfriend on a summer night, and I know it’s getting late and my mom will be calling me inside soon, but I don’t wanna go. I wanna take a walk to the park, possibly smoke a joint and make out.” as You Tube user YoBebeMama said of “Don’t Say Goodnight” by the Isleys but seems easily applicable to “Bye.” just as well.

“Bye.” is like “Just Friends” by Charlie Parker or the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”. Tracks that just sort of glow and connect with you–and everybody else–the first time you hear them. The thick bubbling sonar-esque ping/plonk that echoes after the drums, swiped from The Isleys’ “Don’t Say Goodnight”, is every bit as memorable and indicative as the gladiator movie horns of “Didn’t I Blow Your Time” or Parker’s introductory horn flutters.

The same plaintive warmth as those two etched-in stone classics shoots through “Bye.”–that punctuation at the end’s very important–as well. It’s oddly catchy and full of life and emotion in ways that completely bypass understanding and explanation. And the only way to convey it’s to compare it to other really emotive songs that words don’t even begin to explain either.

Rather than describe the song with some more purple-prose or pontificate further on a song that’s so obviously about Donuts’ core themes, I just want to highlight the parts of the song that kill me. That secondary, louder “Iiii…” that interrupts the final “I really-” in the loop (shortening it to a quick, excited “I!” and nothing more) like one last burst of energy and emotion before exit, and the persistent old-ass record fuzz of that pitters and patters like the meditative morning-of before the big final battle in some Samurai flick.


“Bye” is just unbelievably heartbreaking. I can’t imagine how it would feel to know you’re dying, to know you’re working on the last music you’ll ever work on, and to try to arrange a piece of music that could sum up the word “bye.”

Maybe I’m overthinking it and Dilla was just trying to capture the quick, unfinished goodbye that you do when you can’t possibly sum up how much you’re going to miss someone. Or maybe he wanted to say goodbye to his friends and family in a casual way, to rob of death of its forced profundity. If you say goodbye forever like you’re just going out to the store, it doesn’t have to hurt as much.

The way that he loops and echoes the line “Don’t ever…,” it can sound like “Don’t ever change,” as if he wants everyone he knows to stay exactly how they are right now. That’s what I hear in the music, a perfect, poignant moment captured and frozen in time. Sort of like wanting to choose the freeze frame shot that sums up your whole life, the last shot before the end credits roll.

The sample of a women singing at :48 is cut in a way to make it sound like she’s crying out. I’m not saying she’s supposed to be crying because Dilla is dying or because she is, just that that sound cuts me to the bone. One of the things I appreciate about Donuts is that the whole album isn’t spent dwelling on the sadness or pain of death, because, let’s be honest, it would be really tempting as a producer making an album on his or her deathbed to be like “I’m gonna make the saddest fucking record of all time and make all these fuckers miss me horribly.” It takes guts to do what Dilla did and stay true to himself as an artist in the face of death, but songs like “Bye” show he also wasn’t trying to pretend dying in the hospital wasn’t sad and scary as hell.

-Daniel Krow

Daniel Krow’s blog is The Party’s Crashing Us.

Written by Brandon

March 2nd, 2009 at 4:45 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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