7 Jul 2016

Top 5: Jeremy Toy on J Dilla’s legendary album Donuts

10:50 am on 7 July 2016

NZ producer Jeremy Toy (Leonard Charles) breaks down his top five samples from J Dilla’s bona fide masterpiece, Donuts.

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Photo: Supplied

For those unfamiliar, J Dilla’s legendary Donuts was recorded while the Detroit producer was in hospital battling a terminal illness that would take his life only days after the 31-track magnum opus was released. It’s been a decade since then, yet the record still continues to influence everyone that hears it. That includes local producer Jeremy Toy (Leonard Charles/She’s So Rad), who earlier this year paid homage himself with Basement Donuts, a rendition of the album recorded entirely with live instruments.

As part of Weird Night Out, which is on this Friday at Auckland’s Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Toy will also pay tribute to Dilla with a special rare performance of the album. With that in mind, we asked him to take a moment to fill us in on five of his favourite samples from the record.


Stop - samples Dionne Warwick You're Gonna Need Me

This track drops with a freaky cough like you would hear on Lee Perry or The Scientist records. From there the track gets super heavy with the greatest ballad singer of the 20th Century, Dionne Warwick, laying down a message of loss and heartbreak: “You're gonna need me, you're gonna want me back in your arms.” Stop builds to a climax with the repeated vocal line, then the release comes with J Dilla cutting the phrase "You better stop and think about what you're doing". The words, considering the circumstance, become philosophical; they remind us that our actions affect others and we shouldn’t be too hasty in making decisions.


People - samples Eddie Kendrick My People... Hold On

This is the heaviest cut on the record. Dilla takes Eddie Kendrick’s song about social equality and manages to turn it into a personal statement addressed to the people around him. He also keeps the original sentiment of the song, and due to his genius, the double meaning doesn't get watered down one bit. The avant-garde nature of the chopping and editing makes this one of the freshest songs on Donuts and a unique, defining moment in the timeline of classic hip hop record releases.


Bye - samples The Isley Brothers Don't Say Goodnight

Hip hop that changes tempo mid-song is barely a thing, however J Dilla seemed to not give a sh*t about the rules. The original Isley Brothers track is a smooth ballad made for the bedroom, but Dilla's chopped and cut version ends up more like a mid-tempo spiritual about dealing with love from a higher power and never giving up on it. Or maybe he just made his version of a Barry White ballad; the lyric "I really, I wanna f... Don't ever, don't ever stop" might be him.


Airworks - samples L.V. Johnson I Don't Really Care

This is one of the most complex samples on Donuts. J Dilla completely pulls apart L.V. Johnson's recording and re-assembles it in a complex collage, which somehow sounds seamless. The track breathes with vocal swells and surging strings, while the accented word in the vocal – “forever” - is there to remind us of our human obsession with immortality and time running out. A bonus freaky addition is how he cuts up the original track in a really similar way to a rare boogie cut by Aurra called Forever, which has the same harmonic chord structure and the same lyric.


Welcome To The Show - samples Motherlode When I Die

This is a perfect example of the aesthetic of Donuts and where J Dilla was at in terms of sampling. The original recording by Motherlode is dirty and crunchy; the mix seems broken and the entire production on first listen feels like it’s made up of happy accidents. In reality, it’s an exquisitely captured, deeply emotional recording. The lyrical component of J Dilla's version is the repeated harmonies of the word “be”, however the message isn’t revealed until you listen to the source material. The full lyric from Motherlode is this: “When I die, I hope to be a better man than you thought I could be.” I'll leave it at that!

Tickets to Weird Night Out are available via Ticketmaster.

Listen: Nick D's Indian and Pakistani Electronic Music Primer.