NETWORK OF ENTERTAINING ASIAN AMERICAN TALENT
The Last Donut. (****1/2),
It was 1996; I had copped a mix by some no name Dj and was rocking it while doing nothing in particular. I’ll never forget when the voices of Imani, Booty Brown and co came in on that tape followed by straight down the line percussion and a deep clean bass line, the track was ‘Runnin’ and the crew ‘Pharcyde’ whose album ‘Labcabincalifornia’ I copped a few months later. I didn’t know it at that time but I’d just heard my first Jay Dee aka J Dilla produced beat, and I was hooked.
Unbeknownst to me (until I made a point of more thoroughly reading the linear notes of the albums I’d purchased over the years) I had been following the career of Jay Dee ever since I’d bought my first Hip Hop album ‘Stakes is High’ by De La in 96 with the title track being produced by Dilla. From this album through to songs on ATCQ’s, ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life’ most of Commons ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ and the aforementioned ‘Labcabincalifornia’ all of which were albums that during the mid to late 90’s copped serious rotation by me and many people I knew.
Dilla first really experienced more above ground exposure with the general acclaim that his Detroit crew Slum Village received for both ‘Fantastic’ Vol. 1 & 2. Following these albums Dilla left SV and moved into other collaborative efforts with Madlib in the form of Jaylib and the titled album ‘Champion Sound’ to his solo effort ‘Welcome to Detroit’ along with numerous remixes and productions jobs for people as varied as Janet Jackson, Q-Tip and MED to name only a few.
To condense his career and create a primer for the sake of this review I felt was important for a number of reasons. One being that with his death there is no doubt people who would of otherwise not of heard of Jay Dee and may have found themselves looking into this album due to the amount of respect being sent his way via ‘big’ names in the game. Also as his last album before his death it seems he was really still trying to progress his (and the Hip Hop movements) sound to the very last minute and that is evident in this and every album/song he worked on. So knowing about his back catalogue to an extent seemed relevant for refrence. It should also be noted that I’ve heard reports that most of this album, ‘Donuts’ was completed whilst he was in and out of hospital as you can sense this has definitely had an impact on the final recording once you”ve listened to it.
When first listening to this album I was expecting hard hitting raw simple breaks and samples with simple electronic keyboard lines, those that were very much the trade mark of the album ‘Welcome to Detroit’. What I heard made for a very different experience. Far from a simple collection of a few instrumentals as can be deducted from the amount of tracks listed we receive a consistent and ever evolving collection of sound experiments consisting of jolty samples from everywhere, gritty drums, rocky guitars and raw cuts with a pace that never lets you get comfortable and drift into melancholy much like most instrumental albums. `Donuts’ tone for me was reminiscent of The Avalanches and their album ‘Since I left You’ in that it creates a sort of sonic story. It is this sort of album production for me that is the trademark of some of the best instrumental albums within the scene; see Dj Shadow and Dj Krush respectively.
This is both the J Dilla we know and one we’ve never seen. When it comes down to it ‘Donuts’ is not a simple collection of tracks. This is an album made by a man who knew his time in this world was at an end and wanted to create a heartfelt musical album that both experimented with his trademark sounds and with what he thought the future could of been if we’d been blessed to have him in our presence a little bit longer.
Look out for his two final releases coming out this year called ‘The Shinning’ and ‘Jay Love Japan’ both of which were completed before his death.
RIP Jay Dee.
See you on the other side.