Donuts: A Perfect Album

In 2006, I was your typical teenage basement producer. I played around with a few soul flips like Kanye (for instance, remaking and re-visioning his “Can’t Nobody” beat to talk about that whole “MPJ situation”). I did some trunk-rattling epicness. But, something felt missing. My beats, while still “feasible,” still felt hollow. They felt like barren, carbon copies of what I’d heard on the radio (or the internet). So, I began contemplating my “career” as a producer. I knew I could make a “dope” beat, but it still lacked soul, originality. The beats still lacked what made me, well, me.

That’s until I came across Donuts. I’d always heard “Waves” on [adult swim] around 1:30 in the morning, when I’d, half-sleep, wake up to a random anime re-run. Sometimes, it was Eureka 7. Sometimes, it was Samurai Champloo, I believe. Whatever the case, I knew that, when I heard “Waves,” shit was about to get real. But, I never knew where this song came from. Embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t know as much about Dilla as I probably should have. But, better late than never, I guess. But, I digress.

Finding “Waves” and putting a bootleg copy of the beat on repeat, I listened to the chops, the down-pitched sample (10cc’s “Johnny Don’t Do It,” which, on a Dilla-like tip, I flipped for “The Ballad of Johnny” from 2013’s Songs For…) and was amazed at how this song, this one-minute-and-forty-second song, basically defied every convention I’d held about production at the time, but still managed to be cool. Not only cool, it was downright deadly. I made it my mission to find the parent album–especially since Dilla had recently passed–and play it until it shattered into ten pieces (because I originally had it on CD).

When I started playing through Donuts, I said to myself “wow. This is the perfect album.” The instrumentation and Dilla’s use of obscure, sometimes “corny” sample material, it inspired me. It captivated me. It moved me to the point that I own Donuts on every form of media it was released on (CD, vinyl, Android/Google, Zune, iTunes, eMusic, etc.). No other album, I can say, has moved and affected me the way that 31 instrumentals that have a cyclical story behind them (because “Dilla loves donuts”) have. And, over time, I came to terms that “Waves” while my favorite Dilla beat of all-time, wasn’t even the most convention-shattering.

And, obviously, as time went on, I started becoming less conventional with my production. Even my typical “turn-up” beats went left-field. Take for instance, the original version of “Don’t Take Much” from Songs For…. It took the “no-fi” style I perfected, added in G-Funk elements, a “Jeezy meets Kanye circa ’04 meets J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League” drum pattern, and a Marvin sample, tossed them in a mixing pot and provided something that wasn’t exactly heard that often. That’s not to say that the original version of “DTM” was “good,” but it was definitely Dilla-inspired. But, enough about me.

Donuts, because of its multiple layers and the fact that there are people still trying to deconstruct Dilla’s musical choices today? I’d say it’s a perfect album. Thanks, Dilla.

Speed on the Beat

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