Donuts (album)

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Studio album by
ReleasedFebruary 7, 2006
RecordedSummer 2005
GenreInstrumental hip hop, experimental hip hop, neo soul
LabelStones Throw
ProducerJ Dilla
J Dilla chronology
Champion Sound
The Shining
Alternative cover
Original vinyl edition cover
Original vinyl edition cover

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, three days before his death.

The album was recorded in 2005, largely during J Dilla's extended stay at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center due to complications from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) and lupus.[1] Twenty-nine of the album's thirty-one tracks were recorded in J Dilla's hospital room, using a 45-rpm record player and a Boss SP-303 sampler.[2]

Donuts received widespread critical acclaim for its dense, eclectic sampling and its perceived confrontation of mortality.[3] Pitchfork placed the album at number 38 on their list of the top 50 albums of 2006[4] and at number 66 on their list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s.[5] In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked the album at 386 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[6] It is regarded as J Dilla's magnum opus,[7] a classic of instrumental hip hop, and one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time,[8] with artists of many genres citing it as an inspiration.[9]


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.

In the December 2006 issue of The Fader, J Dilla's mother Maureen Yancey, a former opera singer, spoke of watching her son's daily routine during the making of Donuts:

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.[10]


Donuts is an instrumental hip hop album;[11] the only lyrics on it are short phrases and gasps taken from various records.[12] Donuts contains 31 tracks,[13] which was J Dilla's age at the time of recording.[14] Most songs are quite short, running at lengths of 1–1.5 minutes each,[15] and vary in style and tone.[12] Clash called the album "a conversation between two completely different producers".[16] The original press release for the album compared it to scanning radio stations in an unfamiliar city.[17]

The track order is also unusual: the album begins with an outro and ends with the intro.[18][12] 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".[18] The ending of the final track flows right into the beginning of the first one,[19] forming an infinite loop,[20] and alluding to donuts' circular form.[18][21]


In 2005, J Dilla underwent treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for complications brought on by TTP and a form of lupus.[22] While in the hospital, he worked on two albums: Donuts and The Shining.[23] 29 out of 31 tracks from Donuts were recorded in hospital,[1] using a Boss SP-303 sampler and a small 45 record player his friends brought him.[24] Records his mother and friends would bring were used as the source of the samples for the album.[12] She recalled it in the Crate Diggers documentary:[2] "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.[25]

While working on the album, Dilla didn't allow anyone to listen to the unfinished version and was furious when he found out his mother listened to it while he was in dialysis.[2][10]

Release and promotion[edit]

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.[26] 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".[27]

Donuts was released on February 7, 2006, J Dilla's 32nd birthday.[28] 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.[25][29] 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.[30]

The album's cover was designed by Stones Throw art director, Jeff Jank. Due to the state of Dilla's health at the time, it was not possible to compose a new photo for the album's cover. Instead, a photo from some raw footage of Dilla hanging out at MED's video shoot for his single, "Push" was used. The raw footage was submitted from director Andrew Gura to Jeff Jank. Seeing the photo, Maureen Yancey stated that she thought this photo perfectly captured her son's spirit.[31] The album's title came from J Dilla's personal fondness for donuts.[32]

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 died soon after Dilla).

Donuts: J Rocc's Picks[edit]

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.[33]


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.[34][35] A number of music journalists criticized the box set, stating that the album should be listened as a whole and shouldn't be split.[21][24]

On September 27, 2014, Donuts was released on compact cassettes, as a part of Cassette Store Day.[36]

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.[37][38]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[14]
The A.V. ClubB+[40]
The Irish Times4/5 stars[42]
Pitchfork7.9/10 (2006)[44]
10/10 (2012)[24]
Q3/5 stars[45]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[15]
URB4/5 stars[46]

Donuts was released to universal acclaim from music critics. The album holds a score of 84 out of 100 on the review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim".[39] 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."[44] 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."[12] 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."[40] 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".[14] 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".[47]

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."[48] Online music service Rhapsody ranked the album at number three on its "Hip-Hop's Best Albums of the Decade" list.[49] It ranked number nine on Clash's Essential 50 countdown in April 2009,[16] and the magazine later wrote that its "legacy is undeniable".[41] 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".[24] Q, in 2017, called it a "tour de force in postmodern beatmaking".[50]

Further track appearances[edit]

Many rappers have performed over instrumentals from Donuts, both on official and unofficial releases. 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. 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.” 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, as well as "Lightworks" on a track of the same name on his album Born Like This. Other rappers that have used Donuts instrumentals on mixtape and non-album releases include Drake,[51] Nas,[52] Talib Kweli,[53] Jay Electronica,[18] Big Sean,[54] Big Pooh,[55] Charles Hamilton,[56] and Lupe Fiasco.[57]

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 a favorite.[58] In 2017, Dave Chappelle used "Workinonit" as the theme music for his two Netflix stand-up specials.[59]

Track listing[edit]

1."Donuts (Outro)"0:11
4."Light My Fire"0:35
5."The New"0:49
8."The Diff'rence"1:52
10."Time: The Donut of the Heart"1:38
14."Stepson of the Clapper"1:01
15."The Twister (Huh, What)"1:16
16."One Eleven"1:11
17."Two Can Win"1:47
18."Don't Cry"1:59
19."Anti-American Graffiti"1:53
20."Geek Down"1:19
23."One for Ghost"1:18
24."Dilla Says Go"1:16
26."The Factory"1:23
30."Last Donut of the Night"1:39
31."Welcome to the Show"1:12


Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[60][61]

  • J Dilla – producer
  • Peanut Butter Wolf – executive producer
  • Dave Cooley – mastering
  • Jeff Jank – design
  • Andrew Gura – photography

Sample credits[edit]


Chart (2006) Peak
US Independent Albums (Billboard)[67] 21

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Aku, Timmhotep (April 5, 2006). "Fantastic Voyage". The Source. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Roper, Tamara. "The Evolution of J Dilla". Noisey. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  3. ^ "Rewind: Donuts by J Dilla". TIDAL Magazine. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  4. ^ "Staff Lists: Top 50 Albums of 2005 | Features". December 19, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  5. ^ "Staff Lists: The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s: 100-51 | Features". September 30, 2009. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  6. ^ The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time - Rolling Stone
  7. ^ "J Dilla: Donuts (45 Box Set)". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  8. ^ "A Decade Old, Still Fresh: How J Dilla Wrote the Future With 'Donuts'". Observer. February 9, 2016. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  9. ^ O'Neill, Connor (February 10, 2016). "Life Is A Donut: Reassessing J Dilla's Legacy". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Shine On...and On (Extended Sentimental Remix)". The Fader. November 18, 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  11. ^ Soderberg, Brandon (February 15, 2012). "The Rebirth of Instrumental Hip-Hop". Spin. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Frauenhofer, Michael (February 13, 2006). "J Dilla: Donuts". PopMatters. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  13. ^ A Decade Old, Still Fresh: How J Dilla Wrote the Future With 'Donuts'||Observer
  14. ^ a b c d e Kellman, Andy. "Donuts – J Dilla". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c Relic, Peter (February 1, 2006). "J Dilla: Donuts". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 28, 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Clash Essential 50 – Number 9". Clash. April 16, 2009. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  17. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 3.
  18. ^ a b c d Robinson, Collin (February 5, 2016). "Donuts Turns 10". Stereogum. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  19. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 99.
  20. ^ Heaton, Dave. "The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61". PopMatters. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  21. ^ a b Soderberg, Brandon (February 1, 2013). "Toro Y Moi: Our Finest J. Dilla Disciple". Spin. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  22. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 2.
  23. ^ "The 40 Best Albums of 2006: J Dilla, The Shining (BBE)". Spin. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  24. ^ a b c d Patrin, Nate (January 16, 2013). "J Dilla: Donuts (45 Box Set)". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  25. ^ a b Carter, Kelley L. (February 23, 2006). "Jay Dee's last days". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on February 18, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  26. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 74.
  27. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 76.
  28. ^ Hardy, Ernest (February 14, 2006). "Thank You, J Dilla". LA Weekly. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  29. ^ Ferguson 2014, p. 77.
  30. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (February 14, 2006). "James Yancey, Producer Known for Soulful Hip-Hop, Dies at 32". The New York Times. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  31. ^ Behind the smile: J Dilla’s Donuts Album Cover|Stones Throw Records
  32. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (February 14, 2006). "James Yancey, 32, Producer Known for Soulful Hip-Hop". The New York Times.
  33. ^ "Stones Throw Store / Donuts: J Rocc's Picks". Stones Throw. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  34. ^ Minsker, Evan. "J Dilla's Donuts to Be Reissued as 7" Box Set". Pitchfork. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  35. ^ Martin, Andrew. "J Dilla's "Donuts" Being Re-released as 45 Box Set". Complex. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  36. ^ Kaye, Ben (August 24, 2014). "Cassette Store Day to return in 2014, with releases from Julian Casablancas, Karen O, and Foxygen". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  37. ^ Lee, Morgan (February 5, 2016). "J Dilla's Donuts gets 10th anniversary reissue on Stones Throw". Fact. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  38. ^ "J Dilla - Donuts, 10th anniversary vinyl". Stones Throw. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  39. ^ a b "Reviews for Donuts by J Dilla aka Jay Dee". Metacritic. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  40. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (February 21, 2006). "J Dilla: Donuts". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  41. ^ a b Diver, Mike (February 13, 2014). "Clash Likes To Score: Ten 21st Century 10/10s". Clash. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  42. ^ Carroll, Jim (February 10, 2006). "Hip-Hop". The Irish Times. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  43. ^ Perlich, Tim (February 2, 2006). "Jay Dee". Now. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  44. ^ a b Dukes, Will (February 8, 2006). "J Dilla: Donuts". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  45. ^ "J Dilla: Donuts". Q (237): 119. April 2006.
  46. ^ "J Dilla: Donuts". URB (134): 113. March 2006.
  47. ^ Christgau, Robert (August 2009). "Consumer Guide". MSN Music. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  48. ^ Lennox, Noah (February 15, 2007). "Panda Bear". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  49. ^ Chennault, Sam (October 31, 2009). "Hip-Hop's Best Albums of the Decade". Rhapsody. Archived from the original on November 4, 2009. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  50. ^ "Glitch Perfect". Q (367): 117. January 2017.
  51. ^ ""Stay Down," A Busta Rhymes And Drake Collab Produced By J Dilla, Leaks". Okayplayer. June 18, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  52. ^ Nas. “The Season...”. YouTube: Godzis-13. 30 October 2014.
  53. ^ Talib. “I Feel You” (J Dilla). YouTube: JJ-Hobo. 7 March 2010.
  54. ^ David, Charles. “Big Sean - ‘Only Two Can Win’”. Ear-Milk. 10 February 2012.
  55. ^ Big Pooh, “Official Plastic Cups Video”. YouTube: Id-ego-superego-tv. 21 October 2008.
  56. ^ Knobbz-XL. “Charles Hamilton...Dilla”. Metal Lungies. 17 September 2008.
  57. ^ DJ Focus. “Mixtape Review...2/30”. Focus Hip Hop. 20 February 2016.
  58. ^ Stones Throw Archived May 5, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  59. ^ Barber, Sam. “Album Spotlight...Donuts”. The Avocado: Spotlight. 23 January 2018.
  60. ^ Donuts (liner notes). J Dilla. Los Angeles, California: Stones Throw Records. 2006. STH2126.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  61. ^ Donuts (liner notes). J Dilla. Los Angeles, California: Stones Throw Records. 2014 [First released 2006]. STH2126CS.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  62. ^ Not Available by Shuggie Otis - Topic on YouTube
  63. ^ The Worst Band In The World by 10cc - Topic on YouTube
  64. ^ Johnny Don't Do It by 10cc - Topic on YouTube
  65. ^ The tomorrow people: When J Dilla met Raymond Scott|AV Club
  66. ^ How Time Flys - David Ossman|AllMusic
  67. ^ "Billboard – Independent Albums: The Week of February 25, 2006". Billboard. Retrieved September 24, 2017.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]