No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Dilla’ Category

Dillwave? J Dilla’s Influence on that Subgenre


“Imprint After”, the third track on Toro Y Moi’s bafflingly great Causers of This begins with some party-time piano, then, sorta morphs into an indie version of 80s-era Genesis (drums lead the melody, a stupid “I Can’t Dance”-like use of jagged falsetto trick) and finally, vocally, gives in to the twitching disembodied vocal samples, which get to ride-out into the next track, “Lissoms”. “Lissoms” skitters back and forth, glitch-like, but it’s really just a production nerd exercise in stretching-out a cathartic horn line for as long as possible and then, doing it a couple more times.

The next track, “Fax Shadow” is a crunched-up, warm, weird loop of a bunch of stuff (an R & B singer going “feels so good”, some twinkling piano, like maybe part of a drum) and despite the previous two tracks’ trajectory toward this sound, I wouldn’t blame you if you picked up your iTouch to see if somehow you hit “Shuffle” by accident and now playing is some random J Dilla instrumental. But that’s not what happened–and you realize much of Causers of This reveals the kind of Dilla fetish you’d expect to find on the latest Black Milk or Khrysis production, but not on a Chillwave album.

Among the many reasons this is fascinating is because it’s quite clear that Chillwave, that very much maligned, embarrassingly named indie subgenre (I still prefer “Wave-wave”), derided for being insular and non-commital and lots of other bad stuff, very much has its ears open. That it isn’t simply swiping goofball sounds of 80s via some synth presets, but finding weird, awesome indirect ways to conjure up very specific, nostalgia-soaked emotions.

“Talamak”, THA CHILLWAVE ANTHEM FOR 2010 BRO, might be the first stand-alone successful attempt at singing/rapping over one of those insular, not-made-for-singing/rapping Donuts-style Dilla beats songs compositions. Along with “24″, the Khrysis beat that ends Little Brother’s excellent Leftback, and has these weird near-subliminal coughs and whoop-whoops beneath it, “Talamak” is the most fascinating piece of production this year. There’s rap and R & B and nods to hip-hop production in Toro Y Moi’s music and it’s as natural as any other sound healthily mucking up his indie pop; A sideways answer to Sasha Frere-Jones’ “A Paler Shade of White”.

Toro Y Moi’s production has less to do with say, Kid Cudi rapping over Ratatat, jj covering fucking “Birthday Sex”, or B.O.B’s weird radio career, and more to do with, Swizz Beatz slicing and dicing “D.A.N.C.E” into a Jay-Z hit, Trae rapping over an Electric Wizard sample, WAVVES possessing some Dipset swagger, Ratatat being clearly in love with The Neptunes, and yeah, Solange covering The Dirty Projectors.

It’s probably worth noting that Chaz Bundick aka Toro Y Moi is of mixed heritage (Black and Filipino), but that doesn’t negate Chillwave’s casual affront to the very white indie of the aughties, it’s one more way that the subgenre’s weirder and more open than people want to realize. Chillwave’s also a scene of mostly provincials (Southerners at that) and that’s still kinda scary to New York-centric critics…it’s also just confusing. There’s a great deal more mixing and merging of sounds, ideas, and cultures in the South than East Coast types can really comprehend. And because it doesn’t manifest itself as proper fusion or like, minority-tinged indie outta Brooklyn, it’s easy to dismiss or just not even connect the dots.

Plenty of critics hear the Dilla connection, but very few know what to do with it. Donuts is a confusing piece of music and that’s exactly what allows its influence to spread in so many directions. Released on Stones Throw, an indie label with a lot of visibility and a fan-base beyond just hip-hop heads, Donuts appealed to more than just beat freaks. To rockist and indie ears, who probably don’t even understand the medium of the beat-tape, Donuts was a weird piece of turntablism or a DJ mix (even though it isn’t) or walking along side that Prefuse 73 album everyone liked in 2003. To enjoy its sound, to ingest it and poop it out as one’s own music too, doesn’t necessarily mean you are making hip-hop–except you are.

Friend of Toro Y Moi and fellow Southerner, Ernest Greene aka Washed Out also grabs a great deal from hip-hop. Though his Life of Leisure EP is stoner dance music, smoothed out and warm–no place for digital crackles and skips–it’s full of warbly, weirdly-tweaked samples, that not only turn old songs into new ones, but drastically moderate the overall feeling of the originals. Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson in his “Resonant Frequency” column, discussed Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around”, and how it came from Gary Low’s “I Want You” and also, more importantly, how it totally diverges from the Italo sample source:

Around the time Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” first hit last year, the sample source from the track was revealed to be the 1983 Italo song “I Want You” from Gary Low. The bouncy keyboard and twinkly starburst synth of the Low track had already served as the basis for a couple of songs, but Ernest Greene of Washed Out slipped it some downers, cutting the tempo and the pitch and giving it a crackly warble of distortion. That the loop from the original track was, speed aside, relatively untouched did nothing to take away from Greene’s re-contextualization: in his hands, with the addition of his voice, it became something else entirely, and something pretty great.

Richardson’s description of Washed Out’s production wizardry reads a lot like the hundreds of rap nerds (myself included) writing about Donuts like it contains the key to all mythologies: “Something’s going on here and dude made this sound like this and technically, this is what he did, but there’s still some never-get-to-the-center something else to it and oh shit, one night that change-up brought me to tears.”

If you read my defense of Chillwave, you’ll notice I said “Feel It All Around” was “basically this Style Council song” and some wiseguy in the comments section said “the Washed Out song is actually a song by a guy named Gary Low, just slowed down.” It’s worth noting this comment was posted four days after Mark Richardson’s article, but the point I was making, and where Chillwave becomes Dilla (if that makes any sense) is that indeed, a slightly-changed Gary Low song, in the hands of Washed Out, sounds more like another song altogether. Weird.

That’s the thing about Donuts too–it’s Dilla’s best work, but it’s not his most technically great or most artful. Indeed, what he did to those songs can seem underwhelming once you hear the originals, but something else is going on. Washed Out and Toro Y Moi get that something. And it’s more than glitching up or messing around with some random-ass samples, but glitching/messing them up towards some emotional end. Washed Out’s follow-up, High Times is more explicitly Dilla/hip-hop influenced than Life of Leisure which just kinda does the same tricks Dilla does. Save for the Men At Work-ish single “Belong”, the EP is wandering, very short Donuts-esque instrumentals. Ernest Greene tries his hand at Ruff Draft muthafucka. The last four tracks, “Last”, “It’s Kate’s Birthday”, “You Will Be Sad”, and “Yeah” are even in Petestrumental territory, which is just crazy.

“Hip-hop”, like “punk rock” was and still is an adjective to a lot of people and when you know, Producer A takes Song X, turns it into Song Y, and plays it for Producer B and Producer B goes, “Oh shit, Song Y is dope! You took Song X and made it fuckin’ sound like Song Z! That’s hip-hop!”, a producer’s done something right. Dilla’s maybe the king of this and now, years after his death, and thanks to Stones Throw, a label equal parts devoted to keeping his legacy alive and draining every last cent out of it, Dilla’s even got some indie/electronic nerds from the South making some shit that is indeed, hip-hop. It’s no coincidence that the two guys that get this, who are deserving of the adjective “hip-hop”, are the most promising of this odd, burgeoning, Chillwave scene.

further reading/viewing:
-Google Results for “Toro Y Moi Dilla”
-“Resonant Frequency” #68 by Mark Richardson for Pitchfork
-“In Defense of Chillwave” by ME for Sound of the City
-“Swedish Twee-&-B Duo jj Cover “Birthday Sex.” Why?” by Rob Harvilla for Sound of the City
-“A Paler Shade of White” by Sasha Frere-Jones for The New Yorker

Written by Brandon

April 22nd, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Dilla

Tagged with ,

The End of Neo-Soul.


The most polite coup of popular music took place in the late 90s via “Neo-Soul”. Though a wrongheaded, rockist-bait term nearly from its inception, the music of Neo-Soul–you know, the part that actually matters–casually but radically shifted what R & B and rap could and would do to this day.

Though the incense, plodding pretentious rhythms, headwraps, that nebulous “groove”, and the pseudo-sophistication of it all should never be forgotten, the real legacy of Neo-Soul lies in its embrace of the avant-garde and the casual grafting of the vanguard (back) onto the pop landscape: Free Jazz, a comfort with ambition/pretension, skittering electronics, weirdo production tricks, open-space, Psychedelic music, etc.

That Neo-Soul arrived at the same time as the early rumbles of the regional–especially Southern–rap takeover that’d flourish in the 2000s, is no coincidence. Though Neo-Soul both actively and accidentally set itself up in opposition to Cash Money or No Limit (and of course, Puffy too), “Neo-Soul” and “Southern Rap”–two know ‘em when you hear ‘em subgenres–have a great deal in common and pretty much define the “sound” of R & B and rap in the 2000s. Conveniently for all involved, Neo-Soul’s influence has been sorta pushed to the side. A pocket of open-mindedness instead of a piece of an ever-changing, ongoing popular music landscape.

For R & B and rap (or even just music) traditionalists, Neo-Soul’s strength came in its appreciation for and building upon the past–at a time where many saw music of the past mindlessly pilfered for quick hits. As a result, there’s no motivation or interest in connecting the dots between D’Angelo and Dilla and Timbaland and Mannie Fresh and The-Dream, though they’re very much there. It’s all avant-pop. Neo-Soul is both incredibly overrated and underrated. For once, focus on the underrated part.

As we move into fall, hit Google Blog Search and download look back at a summer of Neo-Soul and Neo-Soul derived releases: Jay Stay Paid, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic, Sa-Ra’s Nuclear Revolution, Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, and Robert Glasper’s Double-Booked. In these records, you’ll hear the high-highs and mind-bogglingly pretentious lows of Neo-Soul, the way a whole bunch of singing, instrumentation, and melody, plenty of noodling, production trickery, and a hardheaded devotion to sonic and thematic consistency, ends up spreading out in weird, really interesting ways. For better and worse.

Mos Def finally figured out the rapping and singing thing and his work’s all the more powerful for it. Something like “Life In Marvelous Times” may even at first, sound like Mos’ resolute concession to synth-rap, but don’t forget Neo-Soul innovator Dilla’s work on Q-Tip’s Amplified and you know, tracks like “In The Night/While You Slept (I Crept)” or “9th Caller” on Jay Stay Paid. Sa-Ra is all Dilla weirdness and nothing more, spread over two discs, the jammy, “experimental” half-formed aspects of Neo-Soul stretched to true indulgence–the non-rapping stuff on Willie Isz’s Georgiavania sounds like Sa-Ra, “Dirty Beauty” even has vampire accents.

Maxwell’s album, absurdly titled, apparently part of a trilogy (talk about indulgence) is also a tiny masterpiece. Oddly, quietly experimental and also ready for anybody’s ears–this is why it’s sold over 300,000 copies–feels oddly 90s and also on-the-cusp of something. Either way it’s not of the moment. Then there’s Robert Glasper’s Double-Booked, a flat-out jazz artist but not really, who peppers the half of his record that isn’t weirdly vivid traditionalist jazz with flutters of electronics and some vocoder mumbles. A perfect companion to BLACKsummers’night, touching on modern sounds completely on its own terms. This is the point where artists become fascinating and irrelevant. The point where Neo-Soul ends.

Not an “end” in the sense of it being over or irrelevant or uncool or passé (though all of those are true) but that the genre’s eaten itself, fully worming its way into the landscape of mainstream R & B and hip-hop. Meanwhile, hip-hop’s inextricably linked itself to pop, no small thanks to those radically individual Neo-Soulsters and some of the smartest, hard-headed-ly street rappers of the South and their maestro-like producers.

Neo-Soul prided itself on eclecticism and now, we’re all eclectic because the internet’s opened wide the doors of music and there’s hardly a monoculture. For example, it’s verifiable that the singing rapper right now Drake’s heard some Houston stuff, if not because his good friends are Lil Wayne and Kanye (whose been working with Rap-A-Lot’s Mike Dean for a while now), then the fact that he’s rapped over “June 27th” on a mixtape, which mean his soul-rap warbles might have a tinge of Big Moe in them, as well as Maxwell or Mos Def. This is rap’s 2009 model: The destruction of borders between rapping and singing, “street” and “for the ladies”, corporate and commutative. Isn’t that Neo-Soul?

further reading/viewing:
-”The End of Science Fiction” by J. Hoberman from Vulgar Modernism
-Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night review by David Drake for Pitchfork
-”Some Ol’ Terminator Shit” by ME
-Drake “November 18th”
-Maxwell “Phoenixrise”
-Robert Glasper “Butterfly”

Written by Brandon

October 5th, 2009 at 4:54 am

R.I.P Baatin.

leave a comment

“Pregnant (Baatin)”

The story of Slum Village seems to me, to be in many ways the story of post-Golden Age hip-hop. Steeped in tradition but subtly bucking it and breaking it down until you had something new.

Working with the same blueprint as all those second-generation “real” rappers but minus the possibility of hit singles, so just choosing to get really insular and weird. Fantastic Vol. 1 is an absolute classic and it’s maybe what Tribe or De La would’ve made if the possibility of minor major stardom was completely out of reach and catchiness wasn’t something to even try to fuck with.

Baatin’s the clear star–rap wise–of all the SV albums he’s on, but especially Vol. 1 where the unhinged, stop-start, cloudburst of pop brilliance and then some trippy weirdness pattern’s pretty much perfect for his flow…and his attitude. Take “The Look of Love”, one of SV’s stone-cold classics, and a song that perfectly captures the group’s mix of the “conscious sound” with a beyond-healthy dose of ignorance.

“The Look of Love” sounds like a head-wrap love jam, but what’s stuck between the hook’s pure wanna fuck stuff. This is perfect though, the mix of the kind and aggressive, polite and destructive, smart and ignorant. This whirl of contradictions, anchored in that beyond healthy dose of ignorance could probably sum-up Baatin’s rap career and the personal life exposed in those raps as a beyond healthy dose of ignorance.

One of my favorites aspects of Baatin’s rapping style is how he can (could…) both expertly enunciate but also use his accent and like, the spit in the back of his mouth as a tiny little extra percussive device, again creating an odd tension between craft and emotion. You hear this on “Pregnant” especially.


Though Baatin’s influence certainly never left the group, well after his exit due to drug problems and a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, for better and worse, Baatin’s all over Detroit Deli, the first SV album after he left the group. There’s a palpable sadness and a wizened sense of empathy to Detroit Deli–the SV sound finally lining-up with the lyrics.

Still plenty of shit and fuck talk, but the moody, sadness of the production starts to align with the lyrics which work their way through disappointment. By 2004, when Detroit Deli dropped, Baatin’s mental issues and exit and Dilla’s leaving of the group and his illnesses were all realities. And it floats through the entire album.

Most telling is Detroit Deli’s closing track “Reunion”, intended to be a track that featured current members T3 and Elzhi as well as Dilla and Baatin. Baatin never made it onto the track, but they kept the “Reunion” title, giving it an angry but also palpably sad tone. Dilla begins his verse with “El and Tin killin them, 3 killin them…” as if it really is a reunion. T3’s verse wraps-up with a look to the future (“maybe we’ll reunite”) when maybe they can all finally rap together.

And then, there’s Elzhi’s verse, one of the most affecting and damned honest verses ever really…and now, a weird eulogy for Baatin. Groups like SV forever live their rap lives partially under the shadow of their influences but that’s really okay, because more often than not, SV were interacting verbally/musically with their heroes. “Reunion” is SV’s “T.R.O.Y” and Elzhi takes CL Smooth’s responses to the fuck-ups in his life further in terms frustration and his empathy.

The verse is transcribed below, because it needs to be, but that final line, of the verse, of the song, of the album, “Getcha mind right nigga”, a line full of straight-forward advice, friendly honesty (“Dude, figure your shit out”) and a hopelessness that’s communicated by the choked-up delivery, destroys. That’s a weird balance, really hating someone and really understanding them. In a way, it’s the balance of living and considering other people.

Yo, Tin killin ‘em, 3 killin ‘em
You thought we broke up and well you right we really did-
I wrote a verse that I recited, it was hot
But I had to rewrite ’cause I thought we was united and we not
And though, all the love that I got for you partner
I picked apart your words and I’m shocked,
In them interviews I’ve been accused of not caring
When the city threw your furniture out
It’s not fair what I’m learnin about
How stressed you feel in a article
Forget a rhyme, I’m just as real when I talk to you-
And you know that we share Kodak moments
I wish we could go back
But don’t act like you wasn’t buggin’ out like a phone tap
Chasing cars in the street
I saw you throw a part in the sink
Then after, hit the bar for a drink
Who asked you to slow down?
Even though niggas told me you was gone clown
But I tried, you didn’t know I cried
When I saw you wildin’ at the State Theater
Near the door by the side
Throw you in the trunk and find a preacher for you
Cause I thought you had unlawful demons on you
Sinkin’ fast in the deepest soil
Your parents finally got you some help
You came out seeming normal and
I heard you on medication
Had a illness you couldn’t heal with herbs and meditation
And believe me, Me and T3 kept it low
Don’t take this as a dis this is just to let you know that I love ya
But watch the company you keep
Swearin’ niggas don’t care, but they love you in the streets
Get ya mind right nigga…

Written by Brandon

August 3rd, 2009 at 5:14 am

Posted in Dilla, RIP, Slum Village

Thoughts On Jay Stay Paid.

leave a comment

-First…Douglas Martin of Fresh Cherries from Yakima is doing a “Jay Stay Paid Day” all uh, day today posting links and comments and responses to the album and it’s a lot of fun. Below is my contribution, a quick write-up of my favorite Jay Stay Paid song (at least for right now) “In the Night/While You Slept (I Crept)”:

“In the Night/While You Slept (I Crept)”s a merger of Dilla’s later experiments with avant-electronic music and his “Terminator shit” of the late 90s/early 2000s–the wonky John Carpenter (or okay: Brad Fiedel) thump of say, “Go Hard” from Q-Tip’s Amplified working it out in the trees with the twinkling weirdness of say, “Lightworks”. The mix of the two though, embodies the particularly blissed-out, 70s Zombie movie synth sound (think Fabio Frizzi or Goblin) all over Jay Stay Paid. That’s not a sound I think I’ve heard that much of from Dilla, as he usually grabbed for some dusty, knicked and crackling soul side when he needed that hazy glow sound–as he does on “Coming Back”, a missing “Donut” if I’ve ever heard one (down to the kinda spiritual, resurrection-suggesting song title).”

-While the inclusion of Blu and some dudes I’ve never heard of (Danny Brown, Diz Gabran, Cue D) sort of tows a certain problematic line as to where Dilla’s music should be categorized, some verses from dudes like Lil Fame, Havoc, and Raekwon mix it up and save Dilla from the groovy, chill, alt-bro crew a bit and remind listeners of how porous the borders between “street” and “underground” and “conscious” rap once were.

-”Blood Sport” is a malfunctioning synth whine and some drums of death beat that features Lil Fame and well, he’s the kind of dude that need(ed) to be rapping over Dilla beats. There’s something cool about dishing out so many of his beats to local knuckleheads and friends and that to me, is always preferable too many “conscious” rappers but here’s a reminder of what could be done with a Dilla beat.

-In contrast is “Reality TV” featuring Black Thought, which might even make my list of “Smart” Rappers Schooling Themselves. There’s really no way track based around Reality TV references would work, but it seems especially terrible and even offensive on a Dilla tribute mix.

-Pete Rock mixed this and DJ Premier had something or other to do with it, but you’d barely realize that listening–which is how it should be.

-Dilla, as one of the hearts of the “Neo-Soul” movement gets a lot of credit for that odd awesome era in the late 90s when hip-hop and R & B got kind of psychedelic and rambly and daringly experimental and he also gets blamed for developing a sub-genre that “ruined” groups like Tribe or Pharcyde and devolved into a bunch of boring, hippie (instead of psychedelic) grooves and “love is all you need” cliches, but a lot of the beats on Jay Stay Paid show the lasting, ongoing influence of “Neo-Soul”: electronic-tinged Rap & B. Yes yes yes, what’s going on in rap right now owes both arms and both legs to Timbaland, but don’t forget about Amplified’s wicky-wicky weirdness. Listening to stuff like “CaDILLAc” or “9th Caller”, you’re reminded of how Neo-Soul, despite its certain conservativism, was key in bringing a new kind of avant-garde and experimentalism to radio-popular black music. There’s a straight line from what Dilla was doing in the late 90s (snippets and chunks of which are heard on Jay Stay Paid) to the Rave-House synth skitters that dominate Hot100’s playlist right now.

-At points, Jay Stay Paid sounds more like “In the Dilla Style” type tapes that producers release, all of which, outside of Cyrus Tha Great’s A Kite to Dilla are pretty much worthless. There’s plenty of great stuff here, don’t get me wrong, but there’s also a sense that we’re hitting the bottom of the barrel in terms of unreleased Dilla shit. Tracks like “Kaklow (Jump On It” or “Mythsysizer” are just kinda whatever.

-That said, realize that nearly all these tracks are ones that are totally “unreleased”. Not just tracks that haven’t been officially released but tracks from any of those four or five Dilla “beat-tapes” that’ve been bouncing around on the internet for years don’t show up on here either.

-Funny how there’s a real sense of different artistic periods with Dilla and they seem to have everything to do with artistic whims and new influences surging through than shifting music industry expectations or hit-grabbing flips on old tricks. A track like “Coming Back” (as I said earlier) could’ve and maybe should’ve been on Donuts, as it’s got that dusty sadness inside of it and a title that invokes death and legacy and even resurrection. There’s a lot of early-to-mid 2000s Electronic Music experiments from Dilla on here too–basically his style pre-Donuts–and then a few of his 90s soul-beats back when he gave a shit or felt like he had to give a shit about making hits or semi-hits. These styles certainly overlap and he’ll go back to an earlier style, but I think there’s a sense that like a visual artist, especially a painter, someone who’s really studied Dilla could parse his work out into fairly defined “periods”.

-Because his Electronic period was tied into his late-90s stuff on Q-Tip’s Amplified and the stuff when he was with MCA (Pay Jay, Frank-N-Dank’s 48 Hours), there seems to be the least of this stuff previously released or heard and it’s great that most of this tape consists of these squeaking, trippy, electronic beats.

Written by Brandon

June 2nd, 2009 at 8:51 pm

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"

one comment

-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."

leave a comment

“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"

leave a comment

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

Dilla Donuts Month: "U-Love"

one comment

There’s way more record hiss and fuzz on “U-Love” than on the rest of Donuts. I imagine Dilla, like most diggers, had multiple copies of the same records in varying condition, and “U-Love” to the “Intro” sound made from the flood-damaged, a few centimeters thinner from too-many listens, scrawled on the fucked-up sleeve “PROPERTY OF THOMAS” or something copies, not the VG-Mint ones.

The fuzz give the tracks an even warmer, more personal feeling and starts to make deterioration and decay explicit, which is appropriate for obvious reasons. What saves this from being a depressive or obvious move is that fact that the conventional “end” of the album is noted as the “beginning” and so, as decomposition becomes more of a musical reality, the album moves closer towards beginning, starting-over…rebirth.

Despite (or in spite-of, or maybe most appropriately, because of) the decay, “U-Love” is one of Donuts‘ “perfect songs” in the sense of it’s this great loop, worked-on, and messed around with until there’s nothing odd or off about it–no “mistakes”, mind the quotes there–similar to “The Diff’rence”, “The Twister”, and “Gobstopper”. That it comes right after “The Factory” and that “The Factory” kinda acts as an overture for “U-Love” is perfect because Dilla’s trying to tie all these strands of sound and sub-genre and everything else together.

There needs to be one of those kinda expensive greetings cards that when you open it up they play a song, that plays “U-Love”. Even outside of the universal sentiment though, this song’s easy for pretty much everybody to get into. Plenty of sounds and clipped voices race around in the background, but there’s no jarring wordless vocals and part-of-a-second grunts, inhales, and exhales, just slightly-touched, super-sincere declarations of love with occasional emphasis (“I really love you…”) from Jerry Butler.


It’s 2006. I’m clutching the wheel of my stepsister’s Dodge Neon, cruising through Downtown Seattle. My then-girlfriend, a professed granola-eater, Devendra Banhart fan and avid conservationalist (what I’m trying to say is that she was a hippie), is somewhat boredly peering out of the window, eyes fixed on whatever buildings we’re passing by. She’s twirling the thick, blonde hair that she only combs twice a week. Donuts is blasting, I’m nodding my head, trying not to space out from all of the street lights shooting by us, and we’re holding hands. Occasionally, I peer over at her and make a funny face to see she’ll notice. Every time, she does, purses her lips, and playfully pokes me in the ribs. A piano and human voice quickly pops out of the stereo. Afterwards, horns start tugging at the heartstrings, and voices in soulful harmony sing, “Just because I really love you.” I start nodding my head a little more as more street lights whizz past us, looking like stationary stars as we’re floating through space or something. “I love you” repeats itself throughout the song, and goosebumps start rising on my arms as I take a lovingly look at the girl sitting next to me. I don’t know what the street lights did to her pale blue eyes, but they looked like they were glowing.

She clinches my hand a little tighter, kisses me on the cheeks, and says, “I like this.”

-Douglas Martin

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month