Donuts

Studio Album by released in 2006

Donuts review

Album released only days before Jay Dee’s unexpected passing

A liquid-blue soul siren, a laid-back old-school whine. J Dilla, Jay Dee, James Yancey, the heart and soul behind so many great albums and beats, passed away two months ago after an undisclosed length of illness; he was only 32. From his work as half of the Ummah with A Tribe Called Quest to more recent productions for artists from Busta Rhymes to Common, from De La Soul to Janet Jackson,and Erykah Badu Jay Dee was almost terminally underground, never achieving the respect he deserved – for a producer whose distinctive sound essentially changed the face of a lot of hip-hop production. Disturbingly large numbers of people have been mistakenly calling Donuts his solo debut. Rather, it is his biggest work to date, a relatively high-profile album, released only days before his unexpected passing. Donuts was his stepping-stone to greater fame, it begun simply as a beat-tape and evolved into something bigger. A great many of these tracks, sold to vocalists and properly promoted, could probably have been hits; Donuts throws them about with willfully reckless abandon, ticking off beat after consistently dope beat seemingly at random, the kind of dense record you could spend days or years or a lifetime coming to know and decipher.

A variety of sound layers and audio samples

Donuts – created from a hospital bed and home studio – is a box-fresh assortment of thirty-one instrumentals, built from a basic palette of sweet soul loops, rudimentary scratches and glazed electronics. One of the many things that will be missed about Jay Dee in the years to come is his wry sense of humor, evident from the very beginning of this album as the first track is Donuts (Outro) and the last track of the album is Donuts (Intro). Things move quickly into Workinonit, the longest track on the entire CD – all of the rest are under two minutes. It definitely deserves to be the longest, as it's also one of the funkiest on the entire presentation. Jay Dee seamlessly integrates a variety of sound layers and audio samples, chopping up guitar riffs and vocal sounds to the point you would be hard-pressed to identify the sources. It can be said that Donuts resembles a collection of interludes more than a traditional hip-hop album. On the one hand it can be frustrating that just as the pace and feel of the track begin to take shape, the song abruptly switches to a seemingly incongruous concoction. On the other hand it most certainly leaves the listener thirsty for more and makes for an incessant playback factor.

Donuts will surely be considered an instrumental hip-hop classic

Viewed in light of Jay Dee’s recent death, the record sounds urgent, like there’s no time to waste working things out, got to get to the next hook. The environment of the recordings probably aided this sense. What started out as “a production beat tape,” developed into what will surely be considered an instrumental hip-hop classic. Every time you spin it you recognize something you hadn’t noticed: Walkinonit’s creamy coos; the backstreet melancholy of Last Donut of the Night; or the unknown voice on One for the Ghost. What would seem like negatives on a beats record – no real flow, sound quality/fidelity running from hi to lo (often in the same song), the most memorable melodies slashed abruptly – turn out to be Donuts’ most endearing qualities. Effortless, gritty, raw: it’s an album of explosions and restraint, of precisely crafted balances and absurd breakdowns, of the senselessly affecting juxtaposition of the most powerful of dreams. It's a little sad when you reflect on the fact Jay Dee created these tasty treats but didn't live long enough to see us enjoy them, but if there's karma in the universe people will stop arguing once and for all about what Jay Dee's music was and enjoy it simply for what it is. Years from now these Donuts will still be just as fresh as the day they first hit the store – there's no expiration date.