Jay Dee

Record review

Phases & Stages

Jay Dee

Donuts (Stones Throw)

Suffering from lupus, Detroit's James Yancey died from kidney failure Feb. 10, only days after his 32nd birthday. Known as Jay Dee or J Dilla, the seminal hip-hop producer leaves behind a decade's worth of phenomenal beat production, lending his signature drum warmth, sparse musical touch, and newfangled sample alignments to hits including Tha Pharcyde's "Runnin'," A Tribe Called Quest's "1nce Again," De La Soul's "Stakes Is High," Slum Village's "Players," Q-Tip's "Vivrant Thing," Common's "The Light," Janet Jackson's "Got Til It's Gone," and Jaylib's "The Red." Finishing Donuts while confined to a hospital bed, Dilla chopped classic fodder like Mountain's "Long Red" and ESG's "UFO" with the precise hand of a rhythmic surgeon. Over the course of 31 primarily instrumental tracks, the album coagulates fractured soul mementos into phase-shifted windows of 21st-century futurism. Whether extending Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness" or refracting images of Frank Zappa coaxing a crowd, looped tidbits twist and turn themselves in a clouded funhouse of sound. Free from the constraints of perfunctory pop structure, Dee funnels seemingly dissonant patterns into pulsing tides of harmonious congruence. Perhaps Dilla presupposed what an out-of-body experience feels like through ambitious ears poised for greater heights. More than a concept, Donuts approaches enigma status for those wishing to sink their teeth into the coattails of a man so ahead of his time that he transcended it.


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