Donuts is the second and final studio album by the American hip hop producer J Dilla, released on February 7, 2006, by Stones Throw Records. It was released on the day of his 32nd birthday, three days before his death.
The album was recorded in 2005, largely during J Dilla's extended stay at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center due to complications from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) and lupus. Twenty-nine of the album's thirty-one tracks were recorded in J Dilla's hospital room, using a 45-rpm record player and a Boss SP-303 sampler.
Donuts received widespread critical acclaim for its dense, eclectic sampling and its perceived confrontation of mortality. Pitchfork placed the album at number 38 on their list of the top 50 albums of 2006 and at number 66 on their list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked the album at 386 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It is regarded, by fans and critics alike, as J Dilla's magnum opus, a classic of instrumental hip hop, and one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time, with artists of many genres citing it as an inspiration.
I didn't know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn't want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product.
The track order is also unusual: the album begins with an outro and ends with the intro. According to Collin Robinson of Stereogum, \"it's almost too perfect a metaphor for Dilla's otherworldly ability to flip the utter shit out of anything he sampled\". The ending of the final track flows right into the beginning of the first one, forming an infinite loop, and alluding to donuts' circular form.
In 2005, J Dilla underwent treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for complications brought on by TTP and a form of lupus. While in the hospital, he worked on two albums: Donuts and The Shining. 29 out of 31 tracks from Donuts were recorded in hospital, using a Boss SP-303 sampler and a Numark PT-01 record player his friends brought him. Records his mother and friends would bring were used as the source of the samples for the album. She recalled it in the Crate Diggers documentary: \"When I took the crate up, and he looked through it, I think out of a whole milk crate full of 45s, I think he might have taken a dozen out of there and set them aside. He said 'you can take that back to the house'. He said 'none of that's good'.\"
Throughout the year his condition worsened. His legs swelled, making it difficult to walk. At times his hands swelled so much he could barely move them. If the pain was too intense, his mother would massage his fingertips, so he could continue working on the album. Occasionally he would wake up in the middle of the night and ask his mother to move him from his bed to the instruments. According to Kelley L. Carter of Detroit Free Press, J Dilla told his doctor he was proud of the work, and that all he wanted to do was to finish the album.
Donuts was ready to be released by October 2005, but according to Stones Throw, their distributor, EMI, \"didn't think a weird, difficult instrumental album by an underground producer would move the projected 10,000 copies\", since Dilla's previous album, Champion Sound, failed to achieve commercial success. Later the label came to an understanding with the distributor and the album was set for release in early February 2006, along with a bonus single \"Signs\".
The album's cover was designed by Stones Throw art director, Jeff Jank. Due to the state of Dilla's health at the time, it was not possible to compose a new photo for the album's cover. Instead, a photo from some raw footage of Dilla hanging out at MED's video shoot for his single, \"Push\" was used. The raw footage was submitted from director Andrew Gura to Jeff Jank. Seeing the photo, Maureen Yancey stated that she thought this photo perfectly captured her son's spirit. The album's title came from J Dilla's personal fondness for donuts.
Dilla's death, three days after the album's release, was widely mourned by the hip hop community, including all those who worked with him in the past and the years closer to his death, especially Detroit's hip-hop community (which included rapper Proof, a friend and associate of Dilla's, who died soon after Dilla).
To promote the album, Stones Throw, in association with Guitar Center and Adult Swim, released a limited edition EP called Donuts EP: J. Rocc's Picks. The EP contained five extended versions of Donuts instrumentals and the bonus track, \"Signs\". Copies of the EP were given away on Winter Music Conference (WMC) 2006 and South by Southwest (SXSW) 2006. The label later started selling digital versions of the EP on their official site.
In a 2007 guest column for Pitchfork, Panda Bear of Animal Collective stated that Donuts was \"By far the album I've listened to most over the past year, and I feel like almost any of the songs off there I could say is my favorite.\" Online music service Rhapsody ranked the album at number three on its \"Hip-Hop's Best Albums of the Decade\" list. It ranked number nine on Clash's Essential 50 countdown in April 2009, and the magazine later wrote that its \"legacy is undeniable\". In a 2012 review of the Donuts 45 box set, Pitchfork accorded the album a revised 10/10 rating, with critic Nate Patrin writing: \"It's a widely praised favorite for so many people, and yet there's something about Donuts that feels like such an intensely personal statement\". Q, in 2017, called it a \"tour de force in postmodern beatmaking\".
Cartoon Network has used many of the album's tracks as bumper music during the Adult Swim programming block. Adult Swim, which has been in a partnership with Stones Throw records, cited the track \"Stepson of the Clapper\" as a favorite. In 2017, Dave Chappelle used \"Workinonit\" as the theme music for his two Netflix stand-up specials. 153554b96e