J Dilla's Donuts

J Dilla's Donuts

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by Jordan Ferguson
     
 

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From a Los Angeles hospital bed, equipped with little more than a laptop and a stack of records, James "J Dilla" Yancey crafted a set of tracks that would forever change the way beatmakers viewed their artform. The songs on Donuts are not hip hop music as "hip hop music" is typically defined; they careen and crash into each other, in one moment noisy and

Overview

From a Los Angeles hospital bed, equipped with little more than a laptop and a stack of records, James "J Dilla" Yancey crafted a set of tracks that would forever change the way beatmakers viewed their artform. The songs on Donuts are not hip hop music as "hip hop music" is typically defined; they careen and crash into each other, in one moment noisy and abrasive, gorgeous and heartbreaking the next. The samples and melodies tell the story of a man coming to terms with his declining health, a final love letter to the family and friends he was leaving behind. As a prolific producer with a voracious appetite for the history and mechanics of the music he loved, J Dilla knew the records that went into constructing Donuts inside and out. He could have taken them all and made a much different, more accessible album. If the widely accepted view is that his final work is a record about dying, the question becomes why did he make this record about dying?

Drawing from philosophy, critical theory and musicology, as well as Dilla's own musical catalogue, Jordan Ferguson shows that the contradictory, irascible and confrontational music found on Donuts is as much a result of an artist's declining health as it is an example of what scholars call "late style," placing the album in a musical tradition that stretches back centuries.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The book is at once a worthy biography of Dilla’s early life, a lush blueprint of Donuts‘s sample sources and a moving personal essay on what the record might actually be about…Ferguson has aced his listening homework (and done the extra credit)." – Scott Heins, OKPlayer.com "Early on in the book, just as he begins to make his case, Ferguson offers up a rather exemplary articulation of why Donuts deserves a book, why its myth is manicured so delicately, and why we love it so."-Nicholas Miriello, Los Angeles Review of Books  

“J Dilla would hate this book,” Ferguson writes, as he posits how he believes Dilla would react to people delving so adamantly into his work to extract deeper meanings, as Ferguson does in this portrait of an album. Donuts, released four days before Dilla’s death, was created during the last moments of the artist’s life, and thus carries a much more substantial weight in comparison to other Dilla productions—whether he would have it that way or not. Thus enters this book, included in the 33 1/3 series, which combines a historical perspective of the album and the context in which it was released, along with a prominent first-person narrative in which Ferguson theorizes on the influences used in the album and how they translated into the larger hip-hop community in which Dilla worked. It feels pretty meta to be criticizing the work of a critic, and while Ferguson spends what I felt was an unnecessarily long time coming to terms with the role of writing as a critic himself, he writes in a way that ultimately succeeds in expressing the significance of Donuts when contemplating Dilla’s life. –Brinley Froelich, SLUG Magazine

“Jordan Ferguson’s book on Donuts provides a trove of information about what was clearly one of the albums of the last decade of any genre […]Ferguson offers a cogent reading of the album. Others have speculated that Jay Dee buried “secret messages” within the tracks. I don’t know how secret they are but it is clear that there were major preoccupations, life-death-relationships and, of course, music. What he produced was a brilliant, multi-layered, sonically exhilarating work and Ferguson has done the album justice with this slim volume.” –Robert Iannapollo, ARSC Journal

Los Angeles Review of Books - Nicholas Miriello

Early on in the book, just as he begins to make his case, Ferguson offers up a rather exemplary articulation of why Donuts deserves a book, why its myth is manicured so delicately, and why we love it so.
SLUG Magazine Brinley Froelich

J Dilla would hate this book," Ferguson writes, as he posits how he believes Dilla would react to people delving so adamantly into his work to extract deeper meanings, as Ferguson does in this portrait of an album. Donuts, released four days before Dilla's death, was created during the last moments of the artist's life, and thus carries a much more substantial weight in comparison to other Dilla productions--whether he would have it that way or not. Thus enters this book, included in the 33 1/3 series, which combines a historical perspective of the album and the context in which it was released, along with a prominent first-person narrative in which Ferguson theorizes on the influences used in the album and how they translated into the larger hip-hop community in which Dilla worked. It feels pretty meta to be criticizing the work of a critic, and while Ferguson spends what I felt was an unnecessarily long time coming to terms with the role of writing as a critic himself, he writes in a way that ultimately succeeds in expressing the significance of Donuts when contemplating Dilla's life.
ARSC Journal Robert Iannapollo

Jordan Ferguson's book on Donuts provides a trove of information about what was clearly one of the albums of the last decade of any genre […]Ferguson offers a cogent reading of the album. Others have speculated that Jay Dee buried "secret messages" within the tracks. I don't know how secret they are but it is clear that there were major preoccupations, life-death-relationships and, of course, music. What he produced was a brilliant, multi-layered, sonically exhilarating work and Ferguson has done the album justice with this slim volume.
OKPlayer.com Scott Heins

The book is at once a worthy biography of Dilla's early life, a lush blueprint of Donuts's sample sources and a moving personal essay on what the record might actually be about...Ferguson has aced his listening homework (and done the extra credit).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781623567194
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
04/24/2014
Series:
33 1/3 Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
461,042
File size:
260 KB

Meet the Author

Jordan Ferguson writes about hip-hop and culture at poetryforgravediggers.com. Originally from Windsor, Ontario, he lives and works in Toronto.

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J Dilla's Donuts 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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