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12 March, 2007@12:00 am

     Originally released in 2003, J. Dilla’s Ruff Draft was a limited edition vinyl release for UK based imprint, Mummy Records. Selling out almost overnight, this lost chapter in the Yancey legacy was unheard by most of his fans - not only because of its limited edition nature, but also because of its vinyl only status. Now, in honor of the 1-year anniversary of his death, Stones Throw gives Ruff Draft an official release, with all new bells and whistles. 

     Ruff Draft was a turning point in the production of J. Dilla, as it was the first project to show a side of the producer that would eventually come to fruition on Donuts. His Beat Generation entry, Welcome To Detroit, offered a mere glimpse of his true dirty district style, but Ruff Draft went full speed ahead with it. “Sound like it’s straight from the mu’fuckin’ cassette” hollers Dilla at the beginning of the album.

     Just like Donuts, upon first listen, it’s hard to understand what the fuss is about, as Dilla’s style here is so grimy that one can barely grab a hold of it. It’s on the consecutive listens that the hypnotic backwards daze of “Nothing Like This” sinks into your consciousness. Songs like this and the newly added “Take Notice” (featuring several hip-hop quotables from Guilty Simpson) will take you into the drug-induced musical high that (perhaps) inspired them. Dilla’s production is so dope, that even the “Intro” and “Shouts” tracks - which would be typically skipped by listeners - keep the head-nodding all night long. The addition of a second instrumental disc in Stones Throw’s new treatment of Ruff Draft makes this package even more appealing. 

      Much of the time is spent more on the vocal side of things, as Dilla (a “favorite emcee” of Pharoahe Monch, actually), “keeps it ghetto with the plastic cups”, flexing his skills as both vocalist and producer. At times, it’s obvious he is freestyling, such as on “Let’s Take It Back” or “Reckless Driving”, with a loose-knit rhyme style that compliments his off kilter production. Even when taking a more focused approach - such as on “The $” (borrowing lyrically and sonically from Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”), or “Crushin’”, an unapologetic fuck song, Dilla comes with it. The crown jewel of the LP is a new addition, “Wild”, where the dusty fingered Dilla digs up a priceless tape-recording of a cheery cockney lad singing a cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize”, and uses it for the backbone of his own song. Only Jay Dee, only J. Dilla. 

     Several references are made to A Tribe Called Quest all over the record (“Let’s Take It Back”, “Reckless Driving”, “Crushin”) which is fitting, since they helped introduce Dilla into the game on the Beats Rhymes and Life LP. Or perhaps this is Dilla’s answer to The Low End Theory, another record that defied expectation and changed the way hip-hop music was made. Either way, whether you are hearing this record for the first time after his death, or are revisiting it, Ruff Draft is another fine example of what a marvel J. Dilla was, not to mention what a tremendous loss that hip-hop has faced with his death.

  Mixtape D.L.
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