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Dilla Donuts Month: "Waves"

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Judging by this, a few other tracks on Donuts and Q-Tip’s “Move”, towards the end of his life, Dilla really got into chopping up vocal samples to the point that they seem like alternating ribbons of taffy, stretched and folded upon each other and frequently cut before a logical end. A lot of these later vocal samples basically just become soundbytes, series of syllables unorthodoxly put together and sounding like a vacuum because of it, like someone’s stereo panning real hard. The result is that what would usually sound like a normal boom-bap backback rap track for someone to spit about incense and what’s wrong with rap today over, becomes glitch-y and infinitely more interesting and weird.



That “Let’s go!” that kicks the track off makes you think the energy of “Workinonit” is gonna continue, but this track’s the opposite: Rolling, contemplative, focused. Plenty of sounds still rumble around in the background but this is one of the least A.D.D tracks on Donuts. On some nerdier, alternate universe “Workinonit” may even be considered “a banger”, “Waves” just appropriately washes over you.

Let’s talk about the band 10cc–the sample source for “Workinonit” and with “Johnny Don’t Do It”, “Waves” too. They’re best known–especially if you’re a big Deuce Bigalow fan–for their proto-ambient, proto-soft rock anti-love song “I’m Not In Love”, a song known for out-there odd, wordless vocals. This isn’t anything new–it’s the kind of story your friend’s “cool” dad would tell you as he drives you to some party where girls might be–but the way the vocals on “I’m Not In Love” were made is by an insane and obsessive amount of multi-tracking (16 tracks filled 16 times) with harmonized, wordless vocals to create, slow-moving (yes) waves of sound that wrap around every bit of space on “I’m Not Love” not already filled by steady guitar strum, bass, and vocals. “Waves” is Dilla trying to make “I’m Not In Love” and in typical Dilla fashion, using the least logical sample to do so…

And while it’s not as avant producer genius as multi-tracking 256 voices, the way Dilla removes the words and pronunciation from the vocals while keeping the melody is similarly obsessive. At first, it’s hard to even spot the sample, but it’s there, Dilla just slowed it down, removed choice vocal inflections, and turned it into a marble-mouthed moans that build and build. If you listen real close too, hidden in the mix, there’s another layer of mumbles, it sorta sounds like slowed-down vocals from Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” or if the parents on Peanuts got the DJ Screw treatment.

Describing it like I did above though, focuses on the precision and skill involved which is cool and all, but Dilla’s the kind of virtuoso that an “outsider” won’t pick up on, which means it’s subtle and secret–it isn’t super fast beat-juggling turntablism, or melismatic singing or face-melting guitar solos–and doesn’t overpower the plain sound of it all. Again, like “I’m Not In Love” where the virtuosity’s a means towards an emotionally affecting end. You don’t need to know they tracked all these vocals and you don’t need to imagine Dilla, obsessively looping 10 or so seconds of a song, trying to find that 1/8th of a second where the one weird sound he wants is isolated, to enjoy it. “Waves”–and all of Donuts really–bypasses understanding and context and hits you viscerally, letting all that smart, contemplative stuff wander around in the background.


The steady, hypnotic rhythm of “Waves” confers focus. (And the title of the track is sublime, of course.) Perhaps melancholy at first, the echoing chants take on a calming power. The song doesn’t build, per se, but as it wears on, it subdues, washing away distraction and anxiety. In “Waves,” I find memories of early-morning meetings at which my preparation was self-evident; a moment of confidence required before plunging into an uncomfortable dinner; the reassuring walk home with knowledge that mirth was waiting for me. Why? Really, it’s a simple instrumental that masterfully celebrates the value of the prosaic. “Waves” is driving in my car carefree; it’s the easy rapport of talking to a close friend; it’s the ability to relish everyday pleasures. And for a man slavishly devoted to routine, consistency, and mining the rhythms of everyday life for amusement and absurdity, “Waves” is validation. There is nothing too bizarre about cross-organizing my dress shirts by color, pattern, and fabric; nothing too unusual about laughing at improper punctuation; nothing too dorky about proudly reading so many internets each night before bed. “Waves” occupies a place in the museum that truly restores faith. It helps to make me OK with being me. And as discussed, we all need that sometimes.


Excerpted from Joey’s wonderful intro–or is it outro?–piece…

Written by Brandon

February 4th, 2009 at 3:21 am