Recordings: J Dilla – Donuts

    On Feb. 10, hip-hop lost one of its most talented artists in J Dilla, also known as Jay Dee, an MC far more recognized for his work as a producer. Only 32, Dilla died from complications from lupus, and was hospitalized for much of 2005 with kidney problems.

    Dilla initially achieved fame as Slum Village’s original in-house producer, but also produced for the likes of Common, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Although Dilla never received the accolades of legendary producers like RZA or Dr. Dre, he was nevertheless one of the most gifted, consistent beatmakers in all of hip-hop, and Donuts, a purely instrumental album, is a testament to his unique sampling ability. Jay Dee samples from a variety of genres: African drums on “People,” funky horns on “Glazed” and distorted electric guitar on “Anti-American Graffiti.” He is at his best, however, when incorporating soul samples into his beats.

    Soul sampling is nothing new in hip-hop — far from it — but Dilla is able to pay tribute to the sample without excessively altering the sound. This is particularly evident on “Don’t Cry,” where the original song is played for 30 seconds before the drums are sped-up and chopped, while the vocal sample is kept at its original pace, avoiding the chipmunk effect commonly heard with many new producers.

    Donuts is truly a remarkable listening experience, and aside from a few exceptions — “Stepson of the Clapper” sounds strangely similar to his “Verbal Clap” off The Grind Date, and “Lightworks” and “The Factory” are a bit too wannabe Prefuse 73-RJD2 — Dilla’s minimal manipulation and eclectic sampling show why he was your favorite producer’s favorite producer.

    We will never know how this album would have been received had he lived, but we can only hope that his death will bring him more credit, because it’s long overdue.

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