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Baker's Dozen

Bon Appétit: James Acaster's Favourite Albums
Emma Garland , February 9th, 2022 10:36

From the tiny emo scene of noughties Kettering to a love of underground hip-hop and the undying appeal of a cult classic, comedian James Acaster takes Emma Garland through the albums that have defined his life


J Dilla – Donuts

I don’t like beat tapes often, I don’t really connect with them. It always feels like an artist or producer advertising how good they are and what they can do for people who might want to work with them, which is fine, but with J Dilla it doesn’t feel like a stepping stone to something else. It feels like this is the goal: making beats. You get a sense of his personality all the way through, and I hadn’t really had that experience with a beat album or instrumental album before.

His whole thing feels so three dimensional and animated and alive. It feels like it’s moving and fizzing and going in different directions. All the tracks are quite short, with abrupt endings that cut into the next track. You can put this on repeat and it just goes back on itself, so you end up with the cyclical donut shape of the whole album. When you discover that he was on his deathbed when he made it… it’s kind of mind blowing. It doesn’t sound like someone that’s coming to the end. It sounds like someone who’s still got loads more to do. It’s not like David Bowie’s Blackstar or Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, where they’re saying goodbye. This is someone who could clearly just keep going for ages. It sounds like someone who still has all this energy and so much more to do. The fact that his mum was looking after him and had to massage his hands in between making beats because he was getting cramped up and stuff… it’s really sad, but you hear all this joy and enthusiasm in the music as well. I love listening to people who knew him, like Questlove, talking about working with him and listening to him making beats all through the night, constantly going over the same one over and over again.

Discovering Madvillainy and Donuts in quick succession was quite a big part of my musical life and opened me up to a lot of other artists. I think they’re both amazing, and if I owned that record label I’d be like, ‘well I don’t need to do anything ever again.’