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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
J Dilla
Stones Throw

Rating: 8/10 ?

May 15, 2006
Imagine sitting at your hospital bedside studio after a 4 and a half-hour kidney dialysis, producing tracks that have more energy than a compilation dance album. Imagine knowing your life will soon end and you have a given amount of time to conclude your career and express who you are. Without the tragic storyline and heartbreak that has left many hip hop fans still in shock, Jay Dee delivers an album that defines the legendary beat conductor while serving as closure to his fans.

James "J Dilla" Yancey (aka Jay Dee) lost his battle with Lupus at age 32, passing away only days before Donuts was released. Over the course of the album's 44 minutes and 31 tracks, Jay Dee paints a clear picture of the future of hip-hop and an abstract picture of his footprint in music. Unfortunately, without knowing that this would be the last Dilla produced album ever, the varied sketch pad of neo-soul would likely have been scrapped as an experimental itch and ignored for another decade. Donuts proves how advanced Dilla's sound is/was compared to the status quo.

For those expecting the rolling instrumental loops of his days with Slum Village, or his work with Common (Like Water for Chocolate) and The Phaycyde (Labcabincalifornia), J Dilla's final offering will no doubt come across as a little unfocused and unpolished. Be forewarned: Donuts can be a frustrating tease when the average instrumental clocks in around the one-minute mark. But for those who hold a true appreciation for Dilla and his avoidance of predictable sounds and mainstream beats, Donuts will sound right on track. From his first production gig with A Tribe Called Quest (Beats, Rhymes, and Life) to the dual super producer collaboration JayLib (Champion Sound), Jay Dee was always evolving and re-inventing.

A simplified explanation of Donuts would be to classify it as classic soul cuts and guitar riffs mashed with old hip hop samples revamped with Jay Dee's signature intricate drum sequences and abrupt brakes; similar to his work with Common on Electric Circus.

For an artist who spent most of his career sampling dust-covered records in such a subtle manner that they were barely recognizable, the openness with which Dilla samples his songs and remixed the versions in recognizable form proves refreshing. Donuts is, ultimately, a great gesture to the music world that Jay Dee knew he was leaving behind, his way of paying homage to the influences that he never fully revealed.

Named for the food he loved, Donuts is mainly about Dilla himself, portraying the imagination and innovation that made him unique - and he produced it in under an hour. There are no fussy M.C.'s, no threatening labels, no limits - just creativity.

For his fans, including myself, Donuts is a grand finale, a spectacular fireworks show. The intensity is strong and the blasts come quick but, like all truly grand finales, the bright spark of joy is overshadowed somewhat by the disappointment of knowing that the show, which no one ever wants to end, is over.

For those interested, contributions can be made to the Yancey Fund for Dilla's family.

Reviewed by Ted Nixon
A contributing writer based in Oakland, California, Ted Nixon covers hip-hop releases for LAS.

See other reviews by Ted Nixon



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