On 2003's collaboration Champion Sound, J Dilla—a.k.a. Jay Dee—brought out the grimy, visceral strip-club funkster in partner-in-rhyme Madlib. Madlib in turn brought out the quirky basement experimentalist in J Dilla, who takes that aspect of his musical personality even further with his striking new instrumental opus Donuts, his second release on Stones Throw, the house Madlib built. But where Champion Sound built and expanded on Dilla's signature champion sound, Donuts blasts off into the sonic stratosphere, straying far from his trademark neck-snapping drums, dirty keyboards, and backward melodies in favor of stream-of-consciousness weirdness and free-associative sonic experimentation.
Then again, one of Dilla's great strengths as a producer was his ability to twist and contort samples into unrecognizable new forms, and on Donuts, he stitches together crazy sonic collages from wildly disparate sources. Like Madlib in Quasimoto mode, J Dilla conjures up spirits here, crafting a sonic alternate universe where a doo-wop version of "Light My Fire," Jadakiss' smoker's rasp, the Beastie Boys' nasal whine, Bollywood percussion, and Afrocentric '60s soul live on the same block and regularly borrow cups of sugar from each other. And just when a track threatens to lose its novelty, it segues into the next, and J Dilla is off on another freewheeling musical joyride.
As an album from one of rap's most revered producers on one of hip-hop's most respected labels, Donuts would qualify as a fairly major release under any circumstances, but J Dilla's recent death lends it additional significance and gravity. Perhaps the only possible upside to Dilla's passing is that it'll hopefully attract more attention to his formidable body of work. J Dilla has left us, but not before laying down some dope beats to step to.