J Dilla passed away at the young age of 32 from Moschcowitz syndrome, a rare blood disorder also known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. The disease causes tiny clots to form that harm several vital organs. His illness slowed down his mainstream work, but Dilla was still well-represented on file sharing networks. Donuts would be the final album released in his lifetime, arriving on shelves on February 7, 2006, his 32nd birthday. Three days later he would pass away due to cardiac arrest.
Dilla isn’t the first musical genius with an untimely death nor will he likely be the last, unfortunately, Mozart comes to mind certainly, his unfinished Requiem Mass in D Minor. Or the vitality in the final albums of George Harrison and Warren Zevon, two men faced with their mortality and responding with graceful and thoughtful final works.
There’s something to be said for art that transcends the time of its creation and art that resonates long after the life of the author. Donuts is one of those albums. J Dilla needs no comparisons, he stands on his own as one of the most vital musical forces of the 20th century and beyond.Since his passing in 2006, Dilla’s work has been curated by his mother, Ma Dukes. Dilla was a prolific beat maker in his lifetime and there is likely much more material that has yet to see the light of day, let alone an official release.
Dillatronic is a posthumous release of instrumental music, loosely connected to a theme: electronic music. In a press release for the album, Dilla’s mother said, “I can smile in my heart, knowing my son’s work is being shared with the people as we planned before he passed. I only share the best, and I only hope to continue introducing the world to the genius of J Dilla.”
It’s more bare bones than finished product, but it makes for a fascinating experience, seeing a genius sketch out musical ideas, slowly teasing out what works and what doesn’t. This is a release for the most devoted of fans, the type of music listener who buys Japan-only releases of albums because they simply have to have the alternate mix on an album they’ve previously purchased in multiple formats.
Most of the instrumental cuts run somewhere in the neighborhood of two or three minutes, while not the engrossing experience of his magnum opus, Donuts it’s still a worthwhile experience. Dilla had an ear for arrangement, things never feel claustrophobic or overly busy. He had a deft touch behind the console and it shows, the production feels full but open enough you could almost pass your hand through it.
Dillatronic is definitely a release that appeals more to hardcore fans but it’s still worth hearing. The beauty of J Dilla’s music is that people are continuing to share it and make new music with it. It’s a damn shame that he is no longer with us, but he’s only as far away as your nearest record store or pair of headphones.