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Dilla Donuts Month: "Don’t Cry"

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Between the strange, snare-heavy frenzy of “The Twister,” the somber elegance of “One Eleven,” the boastful banger “Two Can Win” and the leisurely warmth of “Don’t Cry,” the middle of Donuts is tremendously diverse (and, more importantly, great); it’s straight-up bizarre, poignant, breezily funky and soothing all at once. Among the four songs mentioned, “Don’t Cry” is my favorite, with a slow, sparkling beat and lush Escorts sample. By all accounts, Dilla seems to have been a happy person—just look at Donuts’ cover, where, presumably content, he offers a slight smile, Tigers cap hanging over his eyes—and this is his reminder to be one yourself, even on a frigid February day when the snow-shoveling never ends and you’re mourning the loss of one of your favorite rap producers. At any rate, “Don’t Cry” is every bit as wonderful as “U-Love” (the horn-laden slow jam that appears later) and all of the other Dilla-produced odes to gladness and affection.

-Matt R.

Matt writes about hip-hop on This marks his debut as a blog contributor.


“Don’t Cry” is the inverse of most beats and the majority of Donuts because for long stretches of the song, it’s just a vaguely fucked-with, mostly unadulterated soul-loop and then, for shorter, more chorus-like patches, it folds into itself and becomes a breakdown of vocal clips and grunts and quarter-second samples. Most beats are the opposite, with all the manipulation going on in the longer, “verse” sections and the chorus/hook being the point where the LP slicing and dicing lets-up into a cathartic, untouched loop.

But, most of Donuts doesn’t do that either, the majority of the songs dive deep into obsessive sample tweaking and never come up for the air of a unvarnished soul loop, just whirling around, forever delayed and incomplete as pieces of a vocal or a snare pop-in, then vanish. Only on the most explicitly emotional tracks from early in the album (“Stop!”, “People”, “The Diff’rence”) does Dilla follow a typical beat formula.

But starting with “Don’t Cry” the heavy tracks reject typical beat formula for this inverse-beat pattern, where the really explicit emotion of the song’s repeated a bunch and it only briefly gets all choppy and staggered.

There’s even a sense that the closer to the end–or er, beginning–of the album you get, the less touched the soul samples become, moving closer and closer to just flat-out loops with minimal interjection. The tracks get more emotionally direct as they get more musically direct. Makes sense. Even then though, Dilla mixes it up a few times, tossing in “Geek Down” or “Da Factory”, which work on a pacing level and also downplay the emotional overt-ness of the surrounding tracks and keep the overall album down-to-earth.

The same way rap albums have a few overtly serious tracks but for the most part, mix the visceral with the intellectual within a song or even verse, or end with that stand-out tone changing “sorry I sold crack”-type song or super-didactic political song to flip the rest of the album, Donuts is weird-fun that finds its way back to the super-serious eventually. A dealer isn’t burdened with regret most of the time, a rapper’s not getting all Op-Ed piece in the Times 24-7, and Dilla’s not contemplating his mortality all day every day.

And then you get “Don’t Cry”, a clear reference to Dilla’s illness. He’s telling friends, family, fans not to cry, probably in part because he doesn’t feel like there’s anything to cry about–the album’s proof of his comfort with death–and also just because, as The Escorts sample emotes, it really sucks to see someone cry, especially when they’re crying for you.

Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts

Dilla Donuts Month: "Donuts (Outro)"

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Before watching the NBA superstar drunkenly stumble out of the club toward his limousine…
A few hours prior to the party stretching to reach its “Laffy Taffy” climax…
Previous to us miraculously bypassing the long New Years Eve line at Geoffrey’s…
And just a few moments in-front of us finding parking in downtown Oakland…

There were sporadic cell phone rings disturbing an otherwise moving listening session inside of Jeromes’ car.
The interruptive cellular chirps were coming from the owner of the bootleg cd that was jolting inside the vehicles interior.
Apparently J-Dilla’s next release was playing in the deck and the constant-caller couldn’t risk us keeping his album.
Rome knew why he was calling so we kept driving and laughing at each recursive chime.

Not too long after the 4am toast to “friends and family” inside of my apartment…
With the calendar swiftly shifting merely one scene…
In what seems like a singular breath from
Labcabincalifornia, The Ummah,Fantastic, Soulquarians…
A Titan of vast creativity moves the arm of his turntable toward the right and stops the final record from playing.

-Thaddeus Clark

Thaddeus Clark/Side Hustle’s debut project is free to download at


Donuts is an album about dying and coming to terms with death and at the same time, a final, looping love letter to the world. But Dilla’s also well-aware that a glorified beat-tape about death and the world’s beauty could get real pretentious real quick so, all the messages and ideas are smuggled through dusty soul samples, telling song names, and the album title itself. “Donuts” as like, little tasty treats, much like the 31 beats on the CD, but Donuts as a down-to-earth, unpretentious symbol for the circle of life. Something that stops being neo-soul gibber-jabber and gets really real when you’re pumping out songs like “Time: The Donuts of the Heart” or “Don’t Cry” on your death-bed.


There is something intensely personal about favorite music. Any person’s “favorites” are “personal,” of course, but rarely do you speak about your favorite food, or your favorite shirt, or your favorite Transformer (the Constructicons, collectively) with the passion often summoned as you profess your endless devotion to cherished music. Your favorite rapper, your favorite song, your favorite album–those are the things that you recall viscerally. And it makes sense. If you love music, you are likely engulfed in it frequently, orchestrating a de facto soundtrack for your life. In that way, music becomes sonic photography, or the oxidation process that preserves the fossils of your experience. Music is a medium that captures time. So, of course you really love your favorite music; your memories and your identity are embedded within it.

And you know what? Thank god for the oxidation. Your favorite music is a museum where you find a showcase about who you are. There are vast wings dedicated to your hobbies, your interests, your values, you successes, your failures. The collections are wonderful and rich because, again, your favorite music envelopes so much of your life, a pervasive crust in which so much has been buried. A nice thing about the museum is that you’re a lifetime member, so you can always visit. And you will need to visit, because inevitably you lose your way, or lose your faith, and need reminding.

You know when you might need to visit? One of those times might be when you meet a girl and it doesn’t work. It will be important to visit then because meeting someone inevitably means “putting yourself out there” and seeing how you do. It means that there are judgments being rendered, vulnerabilities exposed. It means that you’ve invited scrutiny–much of which will be your own–that might lead you astray and cause you to wonder about who you are. You’ll need the reassurance that comes with your favorite music.

You might fall for the wrong girl and end up confused because you don’t like where you are, and you’re not proud of how you got there. Finding your way back is hard–you feel embarrassed, you recognize that you’ve gotten away from what you’d choose for yourself while trying to please someone else. Other times, you fall for what might be the right one, and you end up even more confused. You’ve been drawn in and you’ve opened up. You’ve gone the extra mile, together, because it’s made you both happy. You’ve felt like a better you, and that’s felt right. So when that doesn’t work–when that emotional intimacy isn’t sustaining; when your person appears to somehow be a problem–you feel adrift in doubt.

Thankfully, you have your favorite music. You hit the museum and remember what you care about, what makes you, well, you. So, you visit with The Infamous, Uptown Saturday Night, and Stakes Is High as you stroll through a hall memorializing those 5 AM trips to Footlocker to cop the latest Jordans; as you linger in front of those extended lunches at summer camp when you felt enthroned as though you ruled the world; as you sit down to take in the panoramas depicting late-night impromptu freestyle sessions in your freshman-year dorm. Those are the times when College Dropout becomes a fresco, recalling summertime barbecues with your friends; when Fishscale becomes an antiquity, conjuring those raucous Rae and Ghost shows; whenThe Listening becomes sculpture, depicting subway rides with The New Yorker in your hand and work on your mind. The museum helps you move forward as you find yourself again. Your favorite music doesn’t forget. That’s why it’s your favorite music.

James Yancey is a museum curator; he made so much of my favorite music. There are few collections as precious as that encased in Donuts. Were it merely Dilla’s final completed work, it surely would have invited the retrospective treatment is received subsequent to his passing. That it also is a thorough catalogue of music and emotion only further encourages this historical resonance; it is an album that almost wills a listener to be reflective. But serendipitously, it provided accompaniment for so many parts of my life that arose at so crucial a time. A lot of important living, a lot of important growing, a lot of important being me happened to Donuts. So it’s a record with which I frequently visit. “Waves” and “Light My Fire” are pieces to which I regularly return, and I’ve been to the museum a lot lately.

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.

No less restorative is “Light My Fire,” both because of where it is and what it is. Immediately following “Waves,” “Light My Fire” is a triumphant piece that transitions from the quotidian to the exciting. It is controlled spontaneity that disrupts the norm without becoming reckless. “Controlled” because the sample is easily recognized; “disrupts” because the tempo and the mood are so suddenly changed; “reckless” because the sounds are not so jarring as to be uncomfortable. Rather, when juxtaposed against “Waves,” and its celebration of the everyday, “Light My Fire” captures a certain exuberance and daring that is no less a part of my life than my happy embrace of the familiar. At the museum, I can’t help but loiter by “Light My Fire” while fondly considering the decisions to stay out even though the bar was closing at 4 AM, to break up a humdrum Wednesday with a carefully executed scavenger hunt, to boisterously engage in a dinnertime discussion of the word “labia” (don’t ask). “Light My Fire,” for its fast-burning energy and subtle rambunctiousness, is very much a track about feeling alive, and a rebuttal to concerns about feeling too comfortable with the usual.

There are, of course, many reasons to visit your museum, many reasons to lose yourself in your favorite music, many times that compel you to recede toward the foundation of your identity. Maybe it happens when you lose a job. Or when you have a great day and want to commemorate it. Maybe you just have to clean your apartment. And so I tread a now well-worn path to and from Donuts because “Waves” and “Light My Fire” are precisely the kind of favorite music that arouses deep passion. Beyond their intrinsic value, each records personal history in a fashion that confers special significance. This, in turn, leaves Jay Dee to enjoy a special place in music, because it is not so easy to curate so many museums.


Joey’s excellent rap blog is Straight Bangin


Donuts isn’t a “beat-tape”. Most of the tracks aren’t really good for rapping—most who’ve tried make that painfully obvious—and each track while rewarding on its own, isn’t intended to float around, untouched by the surrounding tracks but mix, match, and merge with them. Less a mess of distinct, hot sounds, more an album in the “an assembly of songs with a cohesive theme” sense of the word.

What’s cool about Dilla is how he stuck to his producer weirdo introvert reputation and decided to express his album’s themes through sampling, flipping, and chopping, other people’s music. No rappers. No lyrics. The only vocals are clipped, recontextualized, or rendered word-less by Dilla’s MPC. It’s all laid-out pretty clearly if you’re listening and Dilla didn’t grab the mic himself or get Common or Q-Tip to pontificate on heavy questions about life, death, what you leave, how you leave it and all that, he did it with beats and only beats.

Maturation meets wizened comfort with the world that might even be called “enlightenment” which comes when you’ve faced a reality like the one Dilla had to face: Not only are you going to die one day, it’s going to be very soon, too soon, and that’s just how it goes. So much of the time, hip-hop’s about “not giving a fuck”, but making something as soul-bearing and upfront and willfully weird and abstract as Donuts is truly not giving a fuck, you know?


It’s a little weird for me to write anything about Dilla because I’m not actually a fan. Or maybe that’s why it makes perfect sense for me to.

Like most people, my awareness of him and his work came after his 2006 death from Lupus and the immediate canonization campaign that ensued and it’s own reactionary “Dilla is overrated” backlash that followed after one-too-many earnest, hyperbole-laden posts on ?uestlove’s Myspace. The efforts of Dilla fans worked like a charm, because even though I’m not a fan of his production in the strictest definition like I am of Easy Mo Bee, Ski, Prince Paul or RZA, his decade+ of work in hip-hop came more to the forefront and I could now cite specific tracks that I thought were dope that I hadn’t known were his doing beforehand.

Dilla’s sound, to me, was also these odd and clumpy mid-clipped drums and samples and etc. that usually gave his tracks an earthy backpack-rap feel, real modern R&B sounding. His shit usually ended up sounding like the epitome of “Boom-bap”, and the cleanness and clarity of his work just emphasized his drumthump even more.

My favorite Dilla productions are those he did for Ghost, Common, Tribe/Q-Tip and The Pharcyde, but for this project, commemorating another year since his untimely passing from lupus I’ve been asked to take on Donuts, an album I’ve admittedly had on my computer and iPod for the better part of a year but didn’t sit through until asked to do this. Part of the innate curiosity about illegally copping a Dilla album like this is seeing if all the posthumous hype is merited. And since I’ve revisited the album several times since the beginning of January, it obviously is.

The odd thing about instrumental records like this is their purpose. One is utilitarian, something to be processed and looped for cats to rap over or imprint their own take on the music. The other might be for audiophiles or fans to comb the record for ear candy and dissect it for themselves. But rarely are instrumental albums, whether rap or non-rap, worth a shit. Taking the most recent DJ Premier album as an example, for every “Spin Live” you run into, there’s 14 or so utter bricks, dead and lifeless tracks that are rhythmically and sonically staid and don’t merit casual listening. But Donuts is a standout. Usually rap instrumentals grow a presence and attractiveness because of what someone did over it. With a few exceptions, my favorite producer’s tracks wouldn’t hold up on isolated listens had somebody not fucking blacked out on the track like they did and turned a skeletal sketch, regardless of how layered the beat is, into a full-fledged song. Some shit to hum, to rap along to and head nod to, making ugly-ass faces the whole way wishing you owned a car just to blast it. Donuts manages to actually be something interesting on it’s own, where I actually enjoy listening to “Geek Down” by itself than hearing Theodore Unit rap on it because it’s that fucking good.

The tracks have life. That bears repeating, because instrumental music, barring the Ritalin-deprived stabbings of mathrock, tech metal and its offshoots, tends to seem ghostly. Music without voice very often sees disembodied and incorporeal, and my experience with Donuts has led me to believe that rapping and singing goes beyond having an aural pneumonic to distract listeners from the repetitiousness of music, it can ground it in something tangible, something of flesh, something to reduce the distance between the sounds and your mind. There’s a profound loneliness to sound without voice, which probably explains why soul samples became so prevalent during the decade. We desperately needed to feel warm and human, to escape the banality of life and fatigue of tragedies, and at his best, that’s exactly what James Yancey could do.

Here’s hoping heaven’s got an MPC.


Christopher’s blog about rap and metal and lots of other stuff is Fuck I Look Like?

SAMPLE: “Not Available” by Shuggie Otis off Inspiration Information
For a long time, I didn’t trust “Donuts Samples” lists that said “Not Available” was the basis of “Donuts (Outro)”, in part because too many said lists called the Shuggie song “Unknown Track”, but mainly because I just didn’t hear it. And Inspiration Information–like Donuts–is one of those “my apartment’s burning down I can only take a few CDs with me” CDs, so I figured I would’ve caught it at some point. Then one day, I finally heard it.

It’s those strings flicking around in the background! He found a space on the song where Shuggie’s pristine guitar plucks or the fumbling bass didn’t crowd the strings, sped it up, raised the volume, and looped it. Reminds me ?uestlove’s “The Little Brother Beat Story, in terms of just how like, oddball or different Dilla’s brain is working when he goes to flip a sample. There also seems to be some other samples bouncing around this 10 second album-starter, some slightly roboticized soul-singer’s “I don’t care wha-”, a melodic maybe piano thump bouncing along, and towards the end, before the track’s harshly interrupted by those Mantronix sirens on “Workinonit”, a moment of watery 70s synths–anybody know where that’s from?

Written by Brandon

February 2nd, 2009 at 1:45 am

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So…I had one of these over the summer. I posted a two-part review of Common live at Baltimore’s Artscape but felt like it was a waste of time and gave up because no one fucking reads these things. I think I’ve now faced the reality that no one fucking reads these things and feel okay about that. So yeah, I’ll begin with something easy: An End-of-Year List.

The biggest problem with best-of lists is their predictability. Certain artists release albums and those albums are generally guaranteed to make the list. Perhaps, every album Wilco or Jay-Z or Radiohead releases deserves a place on year-end lists but I think it’s a little lazy on the part of critics. Of course, real writers for real websites and magazines must create these lists, so they are under pressure, but I always come away from them thinking “was that album really that great?” I’m not a real writer for a real website or magazine, so I have no obligations and I would like to take advantage of that: Here is my murderer’s row version of the best albums of 2006.

1. J Dilla – Donuts – I can’t even explain this one. This guy that runs this great record store in Hampden The True Vine and is like, the only guy I’ve ever met that runs a record store who isn’t a prick, but is also the kind of guy that will tell you that the CD you just bought is “beautiful…really beautiful” told my friend that ‘Donuts’ is “[J-Dilla’s] love-letter to the world” and that isn’t far-off. What makes it so great is how it never tries to be clever or cool and totally avoids all of the pitfalls of other “sample-based” albums. It’s not douchey and trip-hoppy like DJ Shadow and it isn’t creating totally “new” songs out of samples like RJD2, who ends up being kind of a bore. ‘Workinonit’ is really the only track on that album that isn’t perfect because it sort of falls into the RJD2 style, it is song length (2:52), so you get a vivid feeling for its structure, and it just feels off-balance precisely because it is so ordered. When the twangy guitars come in you kind of get the feeling “it was time for those twangy guitars” which is quite different from when Jadakiss’s laugh randomly pops up or a track bleeds into the other and you’ve totally lost track of where you are in the album. Basically, its the only song on the album that actually sounds like someone should be rapping over it. There are so many things going on and so many subtle production details (that never try hard to be subtle or smart!) that are too amazing to try to describe. The way, for 30 seconds “Wake up world! Give peace a chance” slowly bubbles in the background of ‘Glazed’ before it becomes clear a minute into the track. Does that announcer at the beginning of ‘The Twister (Huh, What)’ say “Would you join me please in welcome-in-ing“? And then, it sounds like he says “The Temptations” but Dilla has chopped his words up to not actually say a word, so it sounds like “Tempting” and then we hear a live version of ‘For Once in My Life’ by Stevie Wonder’ and I feel like I could have totally misheard all of what I just described…and don’t forget that “I give to you” vocal sample on ‘Last Donut of the Night’…and it is called ‘Donuts’ which could mean a million different things and which is probably better place to begin any attempt at unpacking ‘Donuts’.

Dilla made it as he was dying and calling it ‘Donuts’ fits Dilla’s unpretentious and modest style. There’s obviously some circle-of-life stuff going on with that image of a donut; calling it ‘Donuts’ is a way of bringing the circle-of-life stuff down-to-earth. The title addresses issues of death and (possibly) asserts comfort with death as a part of this cycle without being all My Chemical Romance about it…(or all Pink Floyd/Lou Reed ‘Magic & Loss’/'American Recordings’ Johnny Cash about it…)

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:‘Time: Donut of the Heart’ I found this on Youtube. It’s some band from Korea called Bullssazo and they cover ‘Time: Donut of the Heart’ and turn it into this (more) stoned, blissed-out track. Their other songs seem more conventional and punk-rockish and they call themselves a “punk-rock” band but that doesn’t really describe this cover at all. Unless there’s some weird definition of punk in Korea because this is some really amazing mix of doom metal, psychedelic stuff, and post-rock or something.

Written by Brandon

December 22nd, 2006 at 5:51 am

Posted in 2006, Donuts, J-Dilla, True Vine