Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ruff Draft

J Dilla
Ruff Draft
Stones Throw, 2007

The Ruff Draft EP was originally released by an obscure German label in 2003, between Dilla’s production work on Common’s Electric Circus and his Jaylib project with Madlib. Dilla had been fucked around by MCA, was estranged from his wife and kid, and on a really experimental tip. The result was ten tracks that showed both his brilliance as a producer and his abilities as an MC.

Stones Throw has re-released the EP as a two-disc set, complete with extra tracks and an entire cd of instrumentals. I have to admit that I was a little upset when I realized that my 13 bucks got me only 50 minutes of music (each cd is about 25 minutes long), and at first I thought it was a total waste to not just put it all on one disc. The logic, I’m sure, is to preserve the integrity of the original product, and adding on 10 instrumentals to the end would fuck up the flow. It’s not the greatest solution, but I appreciate where they are coming from, even though I may just burn both sides onto one cd.

Musically, this is solid work. Dilla is both out there but solid, so all of the tracks are head-bobbing but unique. My favorite track is a reworking of Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize”, which features Dilla rapping over an acoustic rendition of the song with a little boy singing the chorus. The fact that Dilla came across the track and decided it would make a good beat shows how good he was at producing.

While his skills as a producer are beyond reproach, his abilities as an MC are not quite immortal. He is good but not great, but all of the tracks work, and there aren’t any lines I’ve come across that have made me cringe, which is saying something these days. This may not be mindblowing lyricism, but it does the job.

In the end, this is a great EP and a fitting tribute to a J Dilla. I’m happy that Stone’s Throw took the time and effort to put out such a nice-looking package (go Helvetica!), and it is always wonderful when obscure records get more widely released. The whole “This is strictly for my real niggaz” language in the liner notes cuts down on the seriousness and somberness of the whole thing, but whatever. Dilla was who Dilla was, even if he did try to get his gangsta on sometimes.

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