Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 am

This is how a beautiful mind says goodbye.

Released on his 32nd birthday, just three days before he died, Dilla's instrumental solo album Donuts is, without question, a humbling work of genius filled with everything that made the Slum Village co-founder one of the most unpredictable producers of all time.

For commercial fans, Donuts is probably far left of most $15 expectations. Among its 31 tracks, there are no Pharcyde-friendly West Coast beats nor any blinged-out Busta Rhymes East Coast jams. Common or Phife Dawg wouldn't select many of these beats for their albums. But that's what makes Donuts such a rough-edged classic. This is Dilla being Dilla — full of pain, creativity and a musical work ethic that rivaled James Brown's.

There are eerie and sad moments here, as if Dilla was coming to terms with his own death. The '70s soul sound of "Don't Cry" is somber enough to sound like an aural epitaph, and the liquid Isley Brothers feel of "Bye" is odd, considering the song never mentions the word.

It's all part of the left-brained madness that makes Dilla's beats such a gift. Most of the album was created in a hospital bed during his illness, and you can almost feel Dilla being pulled to the other side during the sweet soul loops on "Airworks" and the glazed electronics of "Two Can Win."

On "People" — between a melodic array of conga drums and Indian rhythms — sits a perfectly laid Eddie Kendricks sample belting out slowly, "My People ... Hold On."

The man's soul drips all over this one. And we're holding the best we can.

Jonathan Cunningham writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].