- Series: 33 1/3 (Book 93)
- Paperback: 152 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (April 24, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1623561833
- ISBN-13: 978-1623561833
- Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.4 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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J Dilla's Donuts (33 1/3) Paperback – April 24, 2014
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"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"
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"
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 "
About the Author
Jordan Ferguson is a freelance culture writer based in Toronto. He can be found online at poetryforgravediggers.com.
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My favorite part about the 33 1/3 series is that each one is so drastically different that it's hard to get a "bead" on how the series will work.
This one focuses quite a bit on the general context and history of the artist J Dilla, aka Jay Dee. That, of course, wraps up much of it with the history of modern hip hop, which was perfect for me. (I recently finished HIP-HOP EVOLUTION on Netflix and wished it had carried into more modern times. This book seemed to pick up, in many ways, where that series left off.)
I didn't know much about Dilla or this album. I'd tracked it down and listened to it a few times prior to reading this book, but nothing struck me as "amazing" or particularly noteworthy. However, Fergusson provided the appropriate context and discussed the life of this artist, which truly gave weight to the album itself.
That being said, there isn't much about the album itself. There are a few references here, and one of the last chapters does a nice job analyzing the mood and style of the various tracks in comparison with Dilla's life. So, if there is one complaint, it's that it really is more about the artist than the album. Those looking for a huge focus on DONUTS will be disappointed.
For those like me, though, who didn't know much about J Dilla--or, honestly, much about hip-hop's recent history--this makes for a great read about an extremely talented artist whose life was cut too short.
in hip hop h eads everywhere. This book is written in a way that's sure to keep you flipping pages, and will make you want to compulsively bump Donuts over and over!
I've been a big Jay Dee/Dilla fan for years before picking up this book, but always preferred his "fan-tas-tic" work with Slum Village and Jay Dee's Welcome 2 Detroit album to the Donuts' seemingly more minimalist/unfinished instrumental "beat tape" vibe, of which I've heard countless surface-level-similar releases from other producers over the years in the wake of Donuts' massive influence (also written about in this book).
However, diving into this book compelled me to listen to Donuts again on wax non-stop during the course of reading it, lasting well into the following weeks and months. The absorbed information contained herein instilled in me a newfound understanding of the album and an appreciation for each piece within the whole, in such a way that I now experience a deeply resonating familiarity with every sample and minuscule melodic phrase, every twist and turn the album takes on it's masterfully crafted journey. Reading about Donuts helped shine a light on subtle details I would've otherwise overlooked. Now I get what all the other Donut-heads have been feeling this whole time.
It's also impossible to not be inspired by the detailed description of Jay Dee's compulsive, beat-making-above-everything-and-anything-else process of creating music he developed early on and quickly perfected on his own, in the face of a distraction-laden environment. Even more inspiring was how he continued this dedicated work ethic while experiencing the impossibly difficult circumstances of his illness. Through interviews with those who were there at his side, the book tells of how J Dilla crafted Donuts through sheer determination and willpower while suffering increasingly repressive physical debilitation, yet was still able to put the final touches on the record just before he passed on. This depiction unexpectedly turns what would otherwise have been your average 33 1/3 book about a classic album into a powerful story of human triumph.
One thing I remember occasionally feeling uncertain of, however, was the insinuation on the part of the author (based on quotes from musicians who knew and loved Dilla [i.e. Questlove]) that Dilla deliberately instilled every track on Donuts with "secret messages" of various degrees of elaborate significance, suggesting that James Yancey be communicating to listeners from beyond through purposely intended hidden messages, even implying there are many which have yet to be detected.
There's nothing necessarily wrong or problematic with making these assumptions- I actually think it's quite beautiful that Dilla's loved ones, friends and family, can derive a sense of his presence and spirit through messages they hear speaking to them through his music. I by no means am criticizing them; or anyone's personal interpretation for that matter.
But for a writer to assert as fact to fans and listeners that there was a direct intent behind these hidden messages, without being able to check with the man who made it, seemed like a stretch. These pseudo-superstitious theories were entertaining to read about and interesting to ponder, but I had to take them in with a grain of salt considering the well-known fact that music/art is notoriously overanalyzed. Rap/hip hop in particular is plagued with critics and fans alike supplanting their half-baked interpretations in the mouths of the artist's.
This was, however, my only complaint I could recall. Everything else was well researched with the highest regard for an incredibly unique, unfathomably influential artist and his final document.
Donuts has continued to gain popularity and has continued to amass a cult following as people slowly recognize the genius behind this record, and the genius of this record.
To my pleasant surprise, this book offered a lot of previously unknown insight and interpretation on an artist whose luminous career and life where cut horribly short. As a MAJOR Dilla fun, I would highly recommend this book for its off-kilter and unexpected insights into the life and music of a low-key legend, that certainly left us too soon, and this being his last album, will forever leave us wondering what could have been next.
It Is Somewhat Depressing As Well As The Author Contemplates Dilla's Mindstate In His Final Days.
Good Reading Over All. Very Well Written.