Ben Winch's Album Review
J Dilla is everything I love about hip-hop. Dilla reminds us: anyone with a thorough knowledge of black American music in the 20th century has a great education in music. A golden age, which hip-hop, by recognising and celebrating it as such, manages to repurpose and perpetuate. Donuts is a genius curation: 1-2 minute potent edits, exquisite in themselves, that (a) suggest a future, and (b) send us back to the past. At it’s best (“Stop”, “People”, “Mash”, “Time: The Donut of the Heart”, “Lightworks”, “One Eleven”, “Two Can Win”, “Last Donut of the Night”) it’s thrilling, heartbreaking, exhilerating. This happened—the grassroots uprising of soulful virtuosity that brought us jazz, blues, soul, funk—it flourished and passed. But Donuts, a time machine, gives it back. I’ll admit to getting into Donuts kind of late. In England in 2010, someone I loved recommended it, but I never quite settled into it. Maybe my life was too slow; I preferred to luxuriate in Coltrane’s Crescent or Company Flow or outtakes from Bitches’ Brew on the endless-seeming busrides through suburban Wythenshawe to my job at Manchester Airport. But now, with new relationship, three stepkids, studies, writing, music all bubbling at once on the stove of my attention, the one- and two-minute salvos of Donuts suit me to the ground—little shots of love and adrenalin and wide-eyed possibility that, maybe, could only have come from a guy about to be dead. Check his plethora of other instrumentals, mostly released since his death, and see if you can find anything that breaks the rules like this does. It’s a bag of seeds, barely cultivated, whatever he could gather in a hurry, but worked with skilful vigor so it suggests near-infinite outgrowths. Composed for the most part—so legend has it—in a hospital bed with a turntable, a sampler and some 45s gifted by his friends, Donuts is state-of-the-art love of music and community. Dilla, Detroit son of an opera singer and a jazz bassist, with perfect pitch at two and his own turntable at four, is a musical appreciator of genius. Why did Dilla make Donuts? Love of music, plain and simple. A more authentic work of love, reverence and respect I doubt you’ll find.