Reviewed by Robert Gabriel, Fri., Feb. 17, 2006
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.