Dilla’s Donuts: a 15 year tribute to commemorate a Hip Hop legend


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  • Creative Direction
  • Motion Concept
  • Web Development
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  • Experimental
  • WebGL

February 7, 2021 marked the 15 year anniversary of J Dilla’s Donuts. It was his second studio album and would later be recognised as one of the most important records of the 2000s. It’s the final masterpiece of an artist whose influence still stretches into today’s hip-hop scene. To celebrate and honour this album we tried to translate the album Donuts into a digital experience: J Dilla’s Donuts Shop: a 15 year tribute.

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Crate digging

J Dilla was known for his unique way of ‘flipping samples’ with this sequence-sampler computer, the MPC3000. Flipping samples basically means that you take a sample of an old song and rework it into something new.

One of his greatest flips ever was heard during a Slum Village show, where Dilla flipped a sample of The Frank Cunimondo Trio.

Dilla flipped a sample of the The Frank Cunimondo Trio

To find great samples like these, Dilla stayed in record shops for hours, browsing record after record. He was a crate digger: a person who habitually looks through crates of vinyl records at music shops, especially in pursuit of rare or interesting albums.

During our creative process of making the Dilla’s Donuts Shop experience we became crate diggers ourselves. As we read more and more about Donuts, we discovered many things that we sampled in our digital experience as well.

Every donut is a loop

There are many reasons why the album was called Donuts, one of them being the metaphorical reference to life itself seen as an infinite loop. The end is the beginning and vice versa. Just play the album on repeat and all the tracks seamlessly transform into one another, mixing all his styles together along the way. It was also the complete circle of Dilla’s career; it started and ended with a magical beat tape.

It was precisely that infinite character of the album we tried to grasp. Upon entering the site, the user is presented an abstract version of a donut counter. Almost as if you are stepping inside the donut shop on the album cover looking to get your sweets. Here, the endless scroll of the thirty-one donuts represents the looping aspect.

The sampling techniques

Your first introduction with a single track happens when you hover over a donut; the selected donut lifts up slightly and the track immediately starts playing. It’s the start of a personal connection; your handpicked choice is now ready to be discovered.

Diving into a track means to uncover more details along the way. The story of Donuts is a story of samples; seventy-five bits and pieces from all sorts of kinds. Ranging from 10cc to elements of Indian movies. It is precisely this diversity that makes his work so rich.

Dilla's Donuts Mobile Screens

One other detail that cannot be missed is the visual references we used of the MPC3000 display, the tool of choice that unmistakably was the foundation of all Donuts’ tracks. It was this device on which he showed his wide vocabulary of techniques, that’s why we wanted to include style elements of the MPC throughout the site. You might say it was more or less our attempt of making sampling visual.

Old heads and newcomers

The music of Dilla inspires many generations around the globe. It brings memories to old heads but also sparkles curiosity to newcomers in the genre. That’s why we had a deep focus on bringing both worlds together into one platform.

Every donut transforms in a vinyl while being surrounded by user generated content

We tried to achieve that by combining original vinyl vibes with user generated content. We asked fans all over the world to send in their fan videos, resulting in uniquely edited video content, amplifying the experience of each track. Fun fact: the oldest video creator was fifty-two years old and the youngest eighteen, symbolising the diversity of the fan base.

Dilla's Donuts Custom Cover Art
Custom vinyl artwork for every side

One last touch: just flip it

A vinyl is not a vinyl if you can’t flip it. That’s why we actually made the digital records flip. It happens when one side of the album is finished, changing the designed artwork all together.

Flip record to the right side

Made out of love

This digital experience is our way to commemorate the legacy of one of the most influential hip-hop producers of all time. His way of thinking inspires us as creatives every day. By creating something new of the old, by remixing different styles and flipping sceneries to achieve great heights. That’s why we say: the best way to honour his legacy is by listening to his music.


Credits

Recognitions

FWA of the Day Awwwards Site of the Day Awwwards Developer Award Awwwards Mobile Excellence

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