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Archive for March, 2009

"What The World’s Like" Mix

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“What the World’s Like” Mix (62 Minutes 15 Seconds)

Real content on Monday. This began as a mix CD for a friend who visited in late January, right as Obama became president, Gaza was heating-up, the economy was sinking, and Oscar Grant’s murder by cops got sucked-up by other news stories. These events took up a lot of our conversation, as did damn-the-recession trips to record, book, and comic book stores and a late-night viewing of Elem Klimov’s Come and See which is a devastating enough look at “victims and perpetrators” to transcend politics and sides and history and context and sort of spiral out way beyond Belarussia or the Holocaust to Vietnam or Iraq to Katrina and everywhere else. Snippets of humanism and decency are mixed-in for good measure in these uneasy, rarefied times…

-“Kamikaze 2009″
-“Love Lockdown: NO TRIVIA Edition”

Written by Brandon

March 6th, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Posted in mix CD

Dilla Donuts Month Wrap-Up


1. “Outro”
2. “Workinonit”
3. “Waves”
4. “Light My Fire”
5. “The New”
6. “Stop!”
7. “People”
8. “The Diff’rence”
9. “Mash”
10. “Time: The Donut of the Heart”
11. “Glazed”
12. “Airworks”
13. “Lightworks”
14. “Stepson of the Clapper”
15. “Twister (Huh, What?)
16.“One Eleven”
17. “Two Can Win”
18. “Don’t Cry”
19. “Anti-American Graffiti”
20. “Geek Down”
21. “Thunder”
22. “Gobstopper”
23. “One for Ghost”
24. “Dilla Says Go”
25. “Walkinonit”
26. “The Factory”
27. “U-Love”
28. “Hi.”
29. “Bye.”
30. “Last Donut of the Night”
31. “Intro”

Written by Brandon

March 4th, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Donuts (Intro)"


Which part of this “Intro” is the um, actual intro? That mess of trebly croons and drum smacks that invoke images of some crap bar or Ma and Pa greasy spoon shutting of its lights for the evening, or the scratched “Dilla!” shout-outs wrapping around one another with a very Roy Ayers-esque synth-line and low-energy feedback that becomes the “Outro” too? It certainly makes the album’s circular nature both clear–starts with the “Outro”, ends with Intro”, beginning is the end, end the beginning etc.–and sort of baffling as only the end of the “Intro” is the “Outro”…and the part based on “When I Die” by Motherlode sort of fits before it in some weird limbo. And in typical Dilla fashion, anything that mentions death or dying from a song called “When I Die” was left out of his MPC. Which makes sense because any song on Donuts, even the album itself could be called “When I Die”…


Dilla’s passing has completely loaded this track with so much meaning that you can’t help but think that Jay Dee probably knew he was going soon. The full line from the Motherlode original goes like: “When I die, I hope to be/ A better man than you thought I could be”, which is a pretty humble sentiment to invoke, a real classy way for Dilla to go out, still asking for acceptance from his family, friends, and adoring fans. Of course, Dilla cuts this phrase down and focuses only on that held out “beeeeeeeeeee”, which itself is like a commandment to stay living in the moment and just be, just enjoy life as he did. But even if he didn’t intend that meaning, it’s still a dope slice to use. There’s just something about the timbre of their voices when they hold out that “e” that I can’t quite describe. It’s kinda crackly but rich and sweet and kinda inherently animated somehow. And the fact that Dilla inverts the Intro and Outro on the album is a fun little jab but also implies a circle of life, “there is no beginning or end” notion that maybe indicates how he felt about his own death and beyond.


Written by Brandon

March 4th, 2009 at 4:59 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Last Donut of the Night"

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-Zilla Rocca “Last Dance of the Night” (“Last Donut of the Night” Freestyle)

I remember first buying Donuts and not really getting the weirdness to the first half of the album the first few months I had it. But when I heard “Last Donut of the Night,” it gave me a permanent screwface. The drums aren’t even prominent on this beat and it made me roll. It was cinematic and saucy at the same time. I remember thinking how the vibe of the beat felt like a sweaty strip club where black chicks would be grinding slow and smoking blunts. Thankfully, I had been to a strip club just like that hahaha! It was called Nite on Broad (RIP), so I just wrote some left field shit about my experience at the place. From that point on, I noticed that Dilla made beats that I wrote to the fastest.

Zilla Rocca is co-founder of Beat Garden Entertainment, blogs at Clap Cowards, is one half of Clean Guns along with Nico the Beast, and one half of 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, with another (soon-to-be) Donuts Month contributor Douglas Martin.


Backstage. A scant few minutes before showtime. I’m a ball of nerves. My eyes are squinting, my hands are clammy, and sweat is streaming down my face, which is as white as a ghost (or, as white as a black person’s skin can get). I take a quick peep at the stage, where a spotlight is cast over my acoustic guitar. Then, I take a look at the floor. Bad idea: It’s fucking PACKED. People, most with drinks in their hands, are conversing with their friends. Some are adjusting the settings on their cameras. Kids are leaning against the stage, waiting for me to step onstage, grab my guitar, and start beating the shit out of it, as is my way. Me? I’m standing by the door, feeling like I’m going to spew projectile vomit on everything within five feet of me. I take my bandana out of my back pocket and wipe my brow with it, nervously sipping from a bottle of lukewarm water, which– needless to say, due to my nerves– tastes colder than the ice cubes in my Jack and Coke that I obtained through a drink ticket during the opening act’s set. Sometimes, I hate playing in front of other human beings.

The lights lower, and strobe lights start flickering. The looped guitar of “Last Donut of the Night” gives me the combination of amped-up confidence and nervous jitters. The strobe lights stop, and swinging lights are cast all over the stage. Everyone knows what time it is, so they’re clapping along with the tambourine. After the last scratch of “ladies and gentlemen,” I confidently hop onto the stairs that lead to the stage. That’s my cue. The spotlight follows me all the way to center stage, where I wipe my forehead with the bandana in one hand, and hold my water bottle with the other. I receive the most rapturous applause I’ve ever gotten in my life, and politely wave, rag in hand, to the crowd and their overwhelming response.

One of the most inspiring things about music is that it sometimes provokes daydreams.

-Douglas Martin


Dilla abstractly hypes himself at the beginning of “Last Donut of the Night” and then, the rest of the track’s the “performance” in a way, but Dilla’s version of performing is emotive soul-loops and the show-off shit is stuff like that odd drum that’s a solid snap and a not-so-confident tambourine struck at the same moment or these backwards-sounding joyous drones more appropriate for “The Factory”.

And that extra squeaky, extra broken voice that rises out of the cloud of guitar twang and wandering strings as that Dilla drum clomps along to whatever rhythm it wants, yelps “I give to you…and give to you”. It’s a sad, desperate cry of devoted love–that second “and give to you” almost victimizing the giving–is Dilla quietly but bragging about all the music he’s given fans and rappers and well, the world.

A lot of musicians feel like music–and through that, their music–can heal or make the world a little better, namely because other people’s music did that for them, and “Last Donut of the Night” is Dilla just checking-in one last time to be like “Hey, I really work on this stuff, it’s really important. I hope you like it.”

With Donuts, he sat down to work on one final project that he wanted to be the sort of apotheosis of his career–or where he was in his career at this point, which due to shit out of his hands, would be the final phase–and be something that everybody out there could keep coming back to and unraveling and thinking about. That really is giving; that’s a gift. And while that might sound obnoxious, Dilla totally hangs onto his ego because all this shit’s kinda understated and when it isn’t understated, it’s so fucking loud and clear that it just hits you in the gut and feels honest, too-honest, even and so you feel like he’s sharing something very real with you–and he is.

Written by Brandon

March 3rd, 2009 at 4:56 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

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

Dilla Donuts Month: "Hi"

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Fucking heartbreaking, like all good soul should be. My reference point for it is Fishscale, but regardless it’s a genius flip, wherein all of Dilla’s style comes out on display, the skittering and glitching out of the sample, the stop and start drums, and the premature clipping of the loops. Out of the few beats that were actually used for other people’s tracks, this is probably the one that was properly wrecked by the artist, and overall my favorite track on Donuts.



These last few tracks are both really clear in content and hard to pin-down or explain, which is kinda perfect. You just viscerally get them and feel them and the obvious titles like “Bye” or “Last Donut of the Night” just sorta verify what you already sense about them. “Hi” is a weird one though.

Weird because a small part of the impact of the next track “Bye” is contingent upon “Hi”. Even though “Bye” would work–and in a way work better–without “Hi”, the two tracks combined brilliantly reduce every single meaningful and meaningless reaction to the basic: When you meet, and when you say bye, literally, figuratively, whatever. And you can stretch that to meeting someone and them leaving this earth or reduce it to someone you talk to everyday and jumping on and off the phone with them. No matter what, there’s still this tangible beginning and end. Hi and then, Bye. It’s Zen-like in its reduction to the bare-bones.

Maybe Hemingway-like is more like it though because Donuts as a whole, is Zen-like and enlightened and all about how shit doesn’t have a beginning and end–from the album’s construction to the looping of records, it’s all circular–and “Hi” and “Bye” are that more visceral, maybe a little angry, hard-ass acceptance of borders and absolutes. That this very real but less “mature”–if more pragmatic–understanding of the world fits within the greater eccentric circle of Donuts is brilliant.

Beyond that inviting but wistful “Hi…”, Dilla swipes a few actual lines from the spoken-ish intro to “Maybe” by The Three Degrees. Particularly notable is the line about how she “hadn’t heard that voice in such a long time” making “Hi” less about first meetings and more about reconnection.

And the way the track stumbles back into and onto itself–those drums, that pluck of a bassline and some chimes or some shit going forward, back, forward back, punctuated by a “Hi…”–is like the song’s nostalgic for the moment while defining the moment as its happening. I get a sense it’s about the people that come back into your life after well, “such a long time”. When you’re sick and dying or big and famous (Dilla was both), I think odd but comforting reconnections only get exasperated.

Written by Brandon

March 1st, 2009 at 4:45 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month