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J Dilla would have turned 47 years old on Sunday (February 7), but the universe had other plans. The legendary producer passed away in 2006 following a battle with lupus, although his official cause of death was ruled as cardiac arrest.

February 7 also happens to be the 15th anniversary of Dilla’s seminal album Donuts, which was released in 2006, just three days before his untimely death. The 31-track masterpiece incorporated Dilla’s diverse musical palate into one colorful gumbo — from the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC and Mantronix to James Brown, Frank Zappa and Kool & The Gang.

Executive produced by Stones Throw Records label head Peanut Butter Wolf, Donuts’ arrival was bittersweet. News of Dilla’s death was still sinking in when all of a sudden fans were presented with his first posthumous project.

“The album was originally supposed to come out in November 2005, but our distributor at the time didn’t really understand the record,” Peanut Butter Wolf tells HipHopDX. “I asked them to put Dilla on the cover of their mailer that went out to all the stores and they said ‘instrumental Hip Hop doesn’t sell’ and I told them, ‘DJ Shadow’s Entroducing sold.’ They still passed. The rest of the press wasn’t really interested either.

“We decided to push the album back February so we could promote it more and release it on his birthday. We planned a party in Los Angeles with J Rocc, Dilla and I DJing a couple weeks before the release. But Dilla had gotten too sick, so J Rocc and I did the party without him and we came up with the concept to play all Dilla music. On his birthday, when we released the album, we visited him at home and brought a cake in the shape of a donut. He didn’t look good and we left soon after arriving.”


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Dilla died three days later.

“We were getting calls from everyone — New York Times, Rolling Stone, et cetera,” Peanut Butter Wolf continued. “We all said, ‘No interviews’ and eventually, Ma Dukes [Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey] did interviews and the rest of us followed suit. We went through with a record release party in San Francisco that was planned months before with Ma Dukes and it was the hardest gig I’d ever done and the most smiles and love and tears in the air that I’ve ever seen at a show to this day. Indescribable.”

In a December 2006 article on the Stones Throw website, Ma Dukes revealed her son had been working on Donuts even as he was in the hospital.

“I didn’t know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely,” she said at the time. “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.

“He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. ‘Lightworks,’ oh yes, that was something! That’s one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time.”

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That was just a sliver of Dilla’s magic — his innate ability to seamlessly weave together a tapestry of musical genres was unparalleled, a big reason so many artists have sampled his work or employed his production prowess. Pharcyde, Erykah Badu, De La Soul and Common are just a handful of artist who were blessed with Jay Dee’s beats during his lifetime.

Posthumously, Busta Rhymes just used one of his beats for the Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God cut “Strap Yourself Down,” a clear indication Dilla’s influence, legacy and inspiration will never die.

Hip Hop is coming out in droves to celebrate Dilla’s birthday and Donuts’ milestone, including DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Roots’ Questlove, JPEGMAFIA, Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark, Percee P and mixtape king J. Period. Check out some of the reactions below.


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