28 Days Of Dilla #28: J Dilla – Donuts

dilla donuts

It’s the last day of Dilla Month and 28 Days Of Dilla. We saved the best for last as we give a Sampleface Salute to Dilla’s most famous album, Donuts.

I’m going to let you all into a little secret: I didn’t like Donuts the first time I heard it. In hindsight, I’m not sure why but it was probably a mix of lacking concentration while listening and just not getting it. It was around 2009 and I had only recently got into hip hop, so I hadn’t properly researched the stories and heritage behind all the great albums. Because of that, I didn’t know what Donuts was really about. Now, all I can think about is the process behind a very special hip hop album.

For those that don’t know, I’ll try and explain. In 2002, Dilla had been diagnosed with TTP, an incurable blood disease. Coupling that with lupus, a condition he had already been diagnosed with, illness would be a frequent occurrence for the rest of his life. During an extended hospital stay in 2005, friends from Stones Throw dropped by and gave him a Boss SP-303, a 45 player and a stack of records. Other people might have brought flowers, food and well wishes but these guys knew Dilla well enough to bring the right stuff. At this stage of his illness, Dilla’s hands had swollen so much, his mother, Ma Dukes, would massage them so he could continue working. Such resilience and dedication to his craft meant he finished all but two of the albums tracks in the hospital. Dilla unfortunately passed away three days after the album was released.

An interesting thing about the LP is that what we hear isn’t what Dilla had intended. As part of Stussy’s documentary on Dilla, Stones Throw’s general manager Egon explained that Dilla had sent in two CDs for Donuts, one of which he kept, where album was only around 20 minutes in length. Things like this, as time went on, added to the whole mystique of the LP. But away from all that, the beats really spoke for themselves. What made it so special was the backwards nature of the whole thing – the “outro” starting as an intro, the last track being called Welcome To The Show (which was a dope beat), the rawness in production. Dilla made sure each song told a story, leaving subliminal messages in the tracks. Workinonit, which for me, is the epitome of hip hop sampling, was telling everyone that despite the illness, he was still working. Waves was flipped into an imperative call for his brother to take the reigns of the family while he was gone (“Here, Johnny, do it”).