by Daniel B. Honigman (from HipHopDX.com)
Sadly, itâ€™s always the dead musicians who develop the biggest following. Underappreciated when alive, J Dilla â€“ arguably one of the best hip-hop minds ever â€“ and his records have amassed scores of new listeners since his death. But many of these new fans maybe havenâ€™t heard of Slum Village, and because of that, werenâ€™t exposed to his full range of talents. Ruff Draft will help change that.
Originally released in February 2003 as a vinyl-only album distributed by German label Groove Attack, Ruff Draft is some of Dillaâ€™s last solo work before his lupus diagnosis in 2005. Now it is indie powerhouse Stones Throw (who also released Dillaâ€™s Champion Sound collab and Donuts), to re-issue the obscure LP.
Ruff Draft begins with a short intro: the artist himself. â€œItâ€™s Ruff Draft. For my real niggaz only. DJs that play that real live shitâ€¦like itâ€™s straight from the motherfucking cassette.â€ The album then dives into one lush soundscape after another. Letâ€™s Take It Back, the first full track, is highlighted by the strumming of tonal synth-samples, and it relaxes your ears as he rides the beat with some adroit emceeing. Reckless Driving, ups the ante as the synth-heavy light beats have an epic, energizing feel because of the well-placed bass. As always, Dilla pulls this off without a hitch. But he still teases you, as he knows whatâ€™s to come.
Nothing Like This and The $ are the albumâ€™s two biggest heavy-hitters. The first, a love poem comprised of several simple quatrains, solidifies Dillaâ€™s status as one of hip-hopâ€™s most unique talents. Itâ€™s a love song, but itâ€™s far from Thug Love. Simple strings and percussion are distorted to create an emotive accompaniment for his expressive lyrics; â€œIncomplete when youâ€™re away/You turn my nights into day/You show me the light, uh-huh/Gotta have you right away.â€ On The $, he uses ascending horn synth samples to give the song an old-school, b-boy feel.
Xylophone and M.O.P. samples form the background for Make â€˜em NV, a song about changes in hip-hop culture; â€œThese backpackers want to confuse it/Niggaz is icy ainâ€™t got nothing to do with the music/So, hater, mind ya biz and getcha own/You know what time it is, we get that glow.” The only lackluster track on this album, Crushinâ€™ (Yeeeeaah!), uses a grindable beat to describe his seemingly endless desire for ass. Itâ€™s terribly average and notches below what weâ€™re accustomed from Dillaâ€™s dazzling soundscapes.
The original album ends with a track of shout-outs, but is reborn with several unreleased tracks. After an alternate introduction, Wild takes the stage. A sample from British glam-rock band Sladeâ€™s Cum on, Feel the Noize is processed to make the song sound child-like. Take Notice, featuring fellow Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson and an alternate outro end the album on a high note.
Overall, the albumâ€™s wonderful. He doesnâ€™t overload you with complicated beats and rhymes. Because of this, and because of the albumâ€™s length â€“ it runs less than half an hour from start to finish â€“ youâ€™ll be left wanting more. Dillaâ€™s legacy is still growing. His popularity hasnâ€™t yet crested nor has his name been cheapened â€“ a la Tupac â€“ by scores of lechers looking to make a quick buck off of yet another subpar remix album. Along with the all-time great emcees, Dilla is an artist people will listen to many years from now.
Letâ€™s just hope hip-hopâ€™s not dead by then.
(Check out the original review on HipHopDX.com)