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Making a brilliant album is not an easy thing to do. Making a brilliant album whilst dying is even harder. Donuts was released on February 7th on James Yancey's 32nd birthday. 3 days later he passed away. Recorded whilst in his hospital bed, heavily medicated and dealing with the pain of a rare blood disease that would eventually take his life - this album is a testament to immense emotive and positive creativity in the face of physical and emotional hardship.
Widely received as one of his best albums, the album is an exercise in the chop, layer, and loop aesthetic that is the requisite of any self-respecting hip-hop producer. Yancey mastered his craft throughout his career though, not just at the end of it... He was producing for some of hip-hop's A-listers at an early age (Busta Rhymes, Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu), and later moved on to live instrumentation and was widely regarded as the driving creative force behind the Soulquarians (which consisted of The Roots, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common and Mos Def to name a few). He later produced electronic heavy beat-tapes that were widely circulated and whose stylistic signatures still resonate today.
Donuts however saw him coming back to some sampling equipment and a stack of vinyl. Despite sourcing from quite an obvious pool of samples (Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, 10CC, ESG), J Dilla still demonstrates an incredible ear in the tiny nuances and subtleties displayed in the compositions. On first listen, the scrap-book style sloppiness ends up defining what was actually laboured on for hours. In the aftermath of his death, Yancey's final messages are manifested on very close inspection of this work. He knew this would be his final piece of work to offer the world; a final farewell. He communicates with the subtlety that only a producer of his ilk and talent could pull off without pretension or need for overstatement.