Crate Digging Weekly: Celebrating J Dilla’s Birthday and Legacy with a “Donuts” Review

J Dilla’s birthday was Feb. 7, so I decided to take a look back on his legacy and review his biggest album “Donuts.”

Album cover courtesy of Stones Throw.

Album cover courtesy of Stones Throw.

Elliot Rodriguez, Entertainment Editor

The simple pleasure of listening to good music is something that’s taken for granted a lot. Music makes memories, it also keeps people’s legacies alive. In the case of super-producer James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla, his legacy will live on forever.

Stones Throw Records released “Donuts,” on Dilla’s 32nd birthday, Feb. 7, 2006, just three days before his death from a long battle with Lupus. This was the last album that he would ever make, but having made an unfathomable amount of beats during his time on earth, he lives on through every one of them.

There is even a day named after him called “Dilla Day,” every Feb.7, fans of the late producer recognize the enormous impact he had on not just music, but on their lives.

Dilla made “Donuts” on his literal deathbed. In the final moments of his life, long time friends Madlib (Producer/DJ) and J. Rocc (DJ) were known to bring stacks of records to his bedside. Even though Dilla couldn’t move much, the last bit of energy he exerted in his day was making beats on his limited edition Akai MPC (Midi Production Center) 3000.  

Dilla is known for his out of the box thinking, his unquantized and humanized drums, his crazy synth modulation, and the list continues. His influence in Hip Hop is so immense, that his Akai MPC 3000 and his monophonic (produces only one note at a time) analog synth, the Moog Voyager, are on display in the Smithsonian

Easily compared to as the “John Coltrane” (Jazz saxophonist and iconic figure of 20th-century jazz) of Hip Hop by Madlib, Dilla worked with artists such as Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Common, Kanye West, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, and numerous other artists.

Although many of his other productions are valued as being complete masterpieces, “Donuts” is viewed as one of the most influential albums to have ever been created. The album resonated not with just Hip Hop heads and beat junkies, but other genres as well. Classical artists as well such as Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

“Dilla is a modern genius,” Ferguson says. “Everyone has genius within them, but not everyone, for whatever reason, manifests it. But Dilla did. He stood for taking a great risk on different levels, for continuous hard work, and courage. He is a modern genius because he captured and represented the spirit of a particular time. What he did was so deep that he has influenced a huge amount of modern music. In an age when many of his peers are still more interested in vanity, Dilla was more interested in exploration through music. And that is why he is a modern genius,” he told The Guardian

“Donuts” consists of 31 tracks, each of the tracks sporting a different feel than the last. In the album, the listener can hear all the elements of Dilla’s sound. From his younger days when he was producing for his group “Slum Village,” to his later stuff such as “The Shining” which was released Aug. 22, 2006.

Everything from the name of the album itself, the cover art, sneaks a little bit of Dilla’s personality. The iconic cover shows the humble and quiet producer smiling while repping his city, Detroit, with a black and white Detroit Tigers flat-brimmed baseball cap.

The cover was actually a still photo, taken from a music video shoot that Dilla was doing with an artist called MED for the track “Push.”

As far as the samples in “Donuts” goes, there wasn’t a genre that Dilla didn’t sample. Everything from the Beastie Boys, to Eddie Kendricks, Dilla’s ear didn’t care what kind of music it was. As long as it was funky and people could groove to it, then it was going to be sampled.

To this day, “Donuts” and Dilla remain in the hearts of everyone he has touched through his music. There is anything that’s been said about Dilla that hasn’t already been touched upon; from his thorough understanding of music to his superhuman ability to be able to touch someone’s soul and speak to it through his music. Dilla is severely missed, but he is certainly not gone.

Donuts” can be found on all streaming platforms.

Elliot Rodriguez is the Entertainment Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email him at [email protected]  or Instagram @elliotyaknow