Thanksspinning: J Dilla — Donuts

Special Features / November 25, 2014

In what may become an annual Thanksgiving celebration here at Modern Vinyl, our team of writers have each reflected on an album that, fittingly, they’re thankful for. These reflections are in every way a personal spin on a traditional look at a release and we’re excited to share this series of unique recollections with you throughout the week.

My name is David Fisch. I am a writer for Modern Vinyl.

The record I am thankful for is the late J Dilla’s Donuts.

As part of my quest to discover everything and anything regarding music, I stumbled upon Madlib and MF Doom’s Madvillainy, which is not the subject of this article but is certainly its genesis. The album’s unique stylings of short instrumentals, strong emceeing and mixtape-like quality was alluringly fresh and different, which then lead me to purchase the album on Record Store Day a few years ago. Alongside Madvillainy at the record store was a record called Champion Sound by a collaboration called Jaylib. I thought nothing of it.

Spinning my Madvillainy record on blast, I was curious about what other records Madlib had helped produced and Jaylib came back into my mind. Found further within the equation was collaborator and producer J Dilla. From there, my musical discovery tree grew another branch.

In my research, I found out J Dilla had unfortunately died in 2006 at the young age of 32. Hearing his records in hindsight and with that context did indeed spark a series of interest in his discography, with which I ultimately determined and came up with a proper classification of “extraordinary beatmaker” and “first-class sampler.”

I had only heard about the legacy of his last recorded album, Donuts, but I had never actually heard it until I decided to bite the bullet and pick it up with haste. Without context, I could have easily assumed that this was J Dilla’s most remarkable achievement, but when knowing it was recorded and produced while he was in his hospital bed just goes to show that the man from Detroit continued to work despite his illness, and the tenacity and skill he still had left in him has left a mark on both the wax and on myself.

Donuts is really an unparalleled masterpiece in musical dexterity; full of surprising samples, appropriately delicious beats, and a freedom of flow that allows for an immersive experience. It’s bookended as if to continue on and on until someone decides to pick up the needle. That it begs for repeat listens even when you understand its ins and outs doesn’t only solidify the fact that Dilla was a genius in his craft, but it also relays its context, in that the record serves as a commemoration of a life that will live on through his music. Donuts is a curtain call, if you will.

While Donuts certainly has the ability to appeal to everyone, I’m not quite sure I would have felt the same way about it had I first picked it up when it was released. I wasn’t particularly at a point in my life that I was listening to music for meaning, but merely as a ways to establish some kind of identity in high school. Latching onto death metal was my jam and there was no way out of it. High school brought with it many trials and tribulations, and the louder the music was, the louder I was able to tune it all out.

But Donuts will live on whether you listen to it at a young age or at the first signs of retirement, adapting and growing with you as your own musical contexts change throughout your life. It may not mean anything to you at one point and then mean everything to you at others, which reveals just how much Donuts is more art than audible commerce.

I decided to pick Donuts as my Thanksspinning feature because it’s an album whose passion bleeds through the recording, a kind of love that doesn’t come easy. It’s telling that J Dilla had such a love for music no matter the genre or the length and that characteristic reminds me of a certain individual: myself. Be thankful for the ones you love and cherish every moment you have with them, even if the ones aren’t necessarily here physically.

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David Fisch
David Fisch is a Partner and Producer at LA Music Blog and a contributor to Modern Vinyl. When he isn't spending most of his time listening to his latest vinyl pick-up or discovering new music on streaming services, he is a filmmaker, photographer, and podcast host.

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