Whether you view J Dilla’s last work as a cryptic final message designed to examine the human condition, or just as a collection of ill sample flips that take the originals to a whole new level; this new book from 33 1/3 offers plenty to strengthen your sense of admiration for one of the most universally-loved producers to ever touch the pads. If you haven’t heard Donuts in full, open a new tab and buy it immediately. Like DJ Shadow’s Mo Wax début Entroducing, the album benefits from repeated listens to fully catch it’s countless subtleties, and while it might be challenging for the uninitiated, it instantly awes anyone with even a cursory knowledge of sample-based production.
Acting as both biographer and musical theorist, Jordan Ferguson deconstructs the absurdism of Albert Camus and applies the Kubler-Ross Model for confronting mortality to Donuts as adeptly as he scales the mountains of insider information the book assembles. Charting the cyclical journey Dilla’s music made from underground, to mainstream, and back again, the author contextualizes the Detroit producer’s legacy; citing the influence Amp Fiddler, Marley Marl, Pete Rock and Q Tip had on his production, along with the eclectic radio show that sparked his expansive interest in all musical genres. Admittedly you can find much of the book’s information in the Stussy doc, Wajeed’s Bling47 Breaks series and the recent Still Shining video; but the rare jewels of new knowledge gleaned from interviews with Egon, Madlib and Frank Nitt make this essential reading for Dilla heads, doubly so for anyone who makes beats. Discussions on him breaking every one of the 5 unwritten rules for sampling, starting his loops from within phrases rather than on the one, and how Sucker MC’s caught his inquisitive ear for drum breaks are all highlights.
Ferguson’s loving deconstruction of each whirling, wildly creative track on the album places personal insight alongside fact; ruminating on why Jay briefly halved the bpm on Time : The Donut Of The Heart, why Glazed was so intensely confrontational, and why he selected those specific vocal phrases for Walkinonit and Stop! Although the book is as succinct as the album was; it fully realizes a comprehensive view of this amazing musician’s life for the first time, celebrating what can be achieved with just a sampler, some dusty vinyl and a limitless imagination.
Buy it from your usual online retailers.