|Studio album by|
|Released||February 7, 2006|
|Genre||Instrumental hip hop|
|J Dilla chronology|
Donuts is the second studio album by the American hip hop producer J Dilla, released on February 7, 2006 by Stones Throw Records. It was released on the day of his 32nd birthday and three days before his death, thus making it the final album released during J Dilla's lifetime.
On Metacritic, Donuts has received "universal acclaim" from critics, based on an aggregate score of 84/100 from 15 reviews. Pitchfork placed the album at number 38 on their list of the top 50 albums of 2006 and at number 66 on their list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s.
In 2002, J Dilla had been diagnosed with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, an incurable disease of the blood, while also battling lupus, which had been diagnosed a year previously. According to close friend and fellow producer Karriem Riggins, the impetus for Donuts came during an extended hospital stay in the summer of 2005.
I knew he was working on a series of beat CDs before he came to Los Angeles. Donuts was a special project that he hadn't named yet. This was the tail end of his "Dill Withers" phase, while he was living in Clinton Township, Michigan. You see, musically he went into different phases. He'd start on a project, go back, go buy more records and then go back to working on the project again.
I saw him all day, everyday. I would go there for breakfast, go back to Detroit to check on the daycare business I was running, and then back to his house for lunch and dinner. He was on a special diet and he was a funny eater anyway. He had to take 15 different medications, we would split them up between meals, and every other day we would binge on a brownie sundae from Big Boys. That was his treat.
I didn't know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn't want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product.
He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. "Lightworks", oh yes, that was something! That's one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time.
Donuts is an instrumental hip hop album; the only lyrics on it are short phrases and gasps taken from various records. Donuts contains 31 tracks, which was J Dilla's age at the time of recording. Most songs are quite short, running at lengths of 1–1.5 minutes each, and vary in style and tone. Clash called the album "a conversation between two completely different producers". The original press release for the album compared it to scanning radio stations in an unfamiliar city.
The track order is also unusual: the album begins with an outro and ends with the intro. According to Collin Robinson of Stereogum, "it's almost too perfect a metaphor for Dilla's otherworldly ability to flip the utter shit out of anything he sampled". The ending of the final track flows right into the beginning of the first one, forming an infinite loop, and alluding to donuts' circular form.
In 2005, J Dilla underwent treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for complications brought on by TTP and a form of lupus. While in hospital, he worked on two albums: Donuts and The Shining. 29 out of 31 tracks from Donuts were recorded in hospital, using a Boss SP-303 sampler and a small 45 record player his friends brought him. Records his mother and friends would bring were used as the source of the samples for the album. She recalled it in the Crate Diggers documentary: "When I took the crate up, and he looked through it, I think out of a whole milk crate full of 45s, I think he might have taken a dozen out of there and set them aside. He said 'you can take that back to the house'. He said 'none of that's good'."
Throughout the year his condition worsened. His legs swelled, making it difficult to walk. At times his hands swelled so much he could barely move them. If the pain was too intense, his mother would massage his fingertips, so he could continue working on the album. Sometimes he'd wake up in the middle of the night and ask his mother to move him from his bed to the instruments. According to Kelley L. Carter of Detroit Free Press, J Dilla told his doctor he was proud of the work, and that all he wanted to do was to finish the album.
Release and promotion
Donuts was ready to be released by October 2005, but according to Stones Throw, their distributor, EMI, "didn't think a weird, difficult instrumental album by an underground producer would move the projected 10,000 copies", since Dilla's previous album, Champion Sound, failed to achieve commercial success. Later the label came to an understanding with the distributor and the album was set for release in early February 2006, along with a bonus single "Signs".
Donuts was released on February 7, 2006, J Dilla's 32nd birthday. To celebrate this, his friends, Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf, Egon, and J Rocc, stopped by his house. However, they weren't prepared for what they saw: J Dilla, who used to be energetic despite his health condition, now was mumbling and gesturing weakly. Three days later, on February 10, 2006, he died at his home in Los Angeles, California. According to his mother, the cause was cardiac arrest.
Donuts: J Rocc's Picks
To promote the album, Stones Throw, in association with Guitar Center and Adult Swim, released a limited edition EP called Donuts EP: J. Rocc's Picks. The EP contained five extended versions of Donuts instrumentals and the bonus track, "Signs". Copies of the EP were given away on Winter Music Conference (WMC) 2006 and South by Southwest (SXSW) 2006. The label later started selling digital versions of the EP on their official site.
In January 2013, the album was rereleased as a box set. Apart from seven 7-inch vinyl records it contained a bonus 7-inch with tracks "Signs" and "Sniper Elite & Murder Goons", featuring MF Doom and Ghostface Killah. A number of music journalists criticized the box set, stating that the album should be listened as a whole and shouldn't be split.
In February 2016, on Donuts's 10th anniversary, LP version of the album was rereleased. It included the original cover art with Jeff Jank's drawing on it, new drawing on the back, and liner notes by Jordan Ferguson, containing an excerpt from his book Donuts from 33⅓ series about the making of the album.
Dilla's death, three days after the album's release, was widely mourned by the hip hop community, including all those who worked with him in the past and the years closer to his death, especially Detroit's hip-hop community (which included rapper Proof, a friend and associate of Dilla's, who also died 2 months later on April 11).
In regards to the name, "Donuts," The New York Times published an article on Dilla's death, on February 14, 2006, saying, "The record company issued a brief note about the title: 'Easy explanation. Dilla likes donuts.' Yesterday his mother managed a chuckle when she confirmed that fact. 'I just bought two dozen a week ago,' she said."
|The A.V. Club||B+|
|The Irish Times|||
Donuts was released to highly positive reviews from music critics. The album holds a score of 84 out of 100 on the review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". Will Dukes of Pitchfork wrote that Donuts showcases Dilla paying homage to "the selfsame sounds he's modernized", and in that sense, the album "is pure postmodern art—which was hip-hop's aim in the first place." PopMatters' Michael Frauenhofer described Donuts as an "album of explosions and restraint, of precisely crafted balances and absurd breakdowns, of the senselessly affecting juxtaposition of the most powerful of dreams." The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin noted Dilla's "ability to twist and contort samples into unrecognizable new forms" and concluded that "as an album from one of rap's most revered producers on one of hip-hop's most respected labels, Donuts would qualify as a fairly major release under any circumstances, but J Dilla's recent death lends it additional significance and gravity." Andy Kellman of AllMusic wrote that Donuts "has a resonance deeper than anyone could've hoped for or even imagined" given Dilla's passing shortly after its release, and ultimately "just might be the one release that best reflects his personality". Giving it a three-star honorable mention rating in his review for MSN Music, Robert Christgau called Donuts "more about moments than flow, which is strange when you think about it".
In a 2007 guest column for Pitchfork, Panda Bear of Animal Collective stated that Donuts was "By far the album I've listened to most over the past year, and I feel like almost any of the songs off there I could say is my favorite." Online music service Rhapsody ranked the album at number three on its "Hip-Hop's Best Albums of the Decade" list. It ranked number nine on Clash's Essential 50 countdown in April 2009, and the magazine later wrote that its "legacy is undeniable". In a 2012 review of the Donuts 45 box set, Pitchfork accorded the album a revised 10/10 rating, with critic Nate Patrin writing: "It's a widely praised favorite for so many people, and yet there's something about Donuts that feels like such an intensely personal statement". Q, in 2017, called it a "tour de force in postmodern beatmaking".
The tracks "One for Ghost" and "Hi" were used in Ghostface Killah's Fishscale, under the names "Whip You With a Strap" and "Beauty Jackson", respectively. Ghostface Killah also used "Geek Down" for the song "Murda Goons", released on his Hidden Darts: Special Edition album. Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga used "Gobstopper" and "Last Donut of the Night" as beats for "Just Another Day at the Range" and "Best That Ever Did It." "Workinonit" was used by The Roots for a collaboration with Saigon for the album Game Theory, however it was not included out of respect for Dilla's passing. The verse from Saigon can be heard on his mixtape Return of the Yardfather. J Dilla's posthumously released album The Shining, also released with new verses on Common's Finding Forever, uses a re-edited version of "Bye."
The aforementioned tracks were, for the most part, recorded or planned during Dilla's lifetime. After Dilla's passing, The Roots used "Time: The Donut of the Heart" for their J Dilla tribute "Can't Stop This" on the album Game Theory. In 2005, the track "Mash" was rapped over by MF DOOM and Guilty Simpson on the track "Mash's Revenge", which appears on the Stones Throw compilation "B-Ball Zombie War". DOOM also used "Anti-American Graffiti" which appeared on the Dilla Ghost Doom release Sniperlite, under the track name "Sniper Elite". DOOM later used "Lightworks" on a track of the same name on his album Born Like This. "Lightworks" was also used for the "B-Ball Zombie War" track "Lightworking," which features Talib Kweli and Q-Tip. Busta Rhymes added a verse to Q-Tip and Talib Kweli's on "Lightworks" and included it in his 2007 mixtape Dillagence.
Cartoon Network has used many of the album's tracks as bumper music during the Adult Swim programming block. Adult Swim, which has been in a partnership with Stones Throw records, cited the track "Stepson of the Clapper" as their addiction.
Many other rappers and hip hop artists have started to use various beats from Donuts. Termanology also recorded a track titled, "Only One Can Win" using J Dilla's track "Two Can Win." The song is a tale about a man choosing between rap and a woman. He pays respect to Dilla in the beginning of the song. Talib Kweli has used "Bye" on a track called "I Feel You" from the 2006 mixtape Blacksmith: The Movement and "Dilla Says Go" on a track called "Kweli Says Go" from the mixtape with Clinton Sparks "Get Familiar". Rapper Big Pooh had used "Gobstopper" for a track titled "Plastic Cups", and he also used "One Eleven" for a track with the same name featuring O-Dash on a mixtape with Mick Boogie. Drake used "Time: The Donut of the Heart" in a song called "Where to Now" on his mixtape Comeback Season (2007). Charles Hamilton created a mixtape titled And Then They Played Dilla rapping over tracks from Donuts. He also created a sequel, which is named "And Then They Played Dilla 2".
Rapper Skyzoo has recorded tribute tracks using "Two Can Win" and "Last Donut," among others. Jay Electronica used "Gobstopper" for his track "Abracadabra" and several other Dilla beats for various tracks of his Victory mixtape. XV released Thanks For The Donuts, a tribute EP using J Dilla beats, on February 7, 2011 (Dilla's birthday as well as the fifth anniversary of Donuts). Big Sean has also released freestyle which uses the beat for "(Only) Two Can Win", and uses the same title. Nas released "The Season" on October 30, 2014 which uses "Gobstopper" as the backdrop for his track. J Dilla is listed as the producer. Lupe Fiasco used "The Diff'rence" on the track "Of" from his August 29, 2015 mixtape "Pharaoh Heights".
|4.||"Light My Fire"||0:35|
|10.||"Time: The Donut of the Heart"||1:38|
|14.||"Stepson of the Clapper"||1:01|
|15.||"The Twister (Huh, What)"||1:16|
|17.||"Two Can Win"||1:47|
|23.||"One for Ghost"||1:18|
|24.||"Dilla Says Go"||1:16|
|30.||"Last Donut of the Night"||1:39|
|31.||"Welcome to the Show"||1:12|
- J Dilla – producer
- Peanut Butter Wolf – executive producer
- Dave Cooley – mastering
- Jeff Jank – design
- Andrew Gura – photography
- Donuts (Outro)
- Light My Fire
- The New
- The Diff'rence
- Time: The Donut of the Heart
- Stepson of the Clapper
- The Twister (Huh, What)
- One Eleven
- Two Can Win
- Don't Cry
- "I Can't Stand (to See You Cry)" by The Escorts (vocal)
- Anti-American Graffiti
- Geek Down
- One for Ghost
- Dilla Says Go
- The Factory
- Last Donut of the Night
- Welcome to the Show
|US Independent Albums (Billboard)||21|
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