J Dilla

Ruff Draft

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While Dilla awaited the fate of a solo album set to be released by MCA -- which, due to corporate upheaval, wound up being thrown into indefinite unreleased limbo -- he knocked out Ruff Draft, a ten-track EP released in 2003 on his and Frank-N-Dank's short-lived Mummy label. Distributed only in Germany, the 12" was aimed at Dilla's "real n*gg*s only." Unsurprisingly, physical copies reached the hands of his keenest followers and few others. It wasn't necessarily scarce; it was pretty much unknown, a low-key import release from a stealth producer. Over three years since its initial issue, and a little over a year since Dilla's passing, Stones Throw steps in with an expanded reissue, adding four tracks to the original sequence with a second disc containing the instrumentals. When compared to Welcome 2 Detroit, it's measurably more scattered, with stray ideas adding up to a less than cohesive whole that nonetheless engages entirely. Here, he makes moves further away from his past in the Ummah and, apart from a couple brief interludes and sampled interjections, it's all his show, with his vocals on each cut -- including "Nothing Like This," where he sings with an effective flatness. If you've never cared for Dilla as an MC, it's unlikely that you will be won over by these rhymes, since they entail his usual circuit of smacking down haters, getting money, and getting laid. Those who come for the productions and nothing else have plenty to lap up. Even the relatively straightforward beats ("Reckless Driving," "Make'em NV") take a few listens to fully appreciate, with subtle layers hovering and swirling in the background. The two key, previously unreleased tracks are "Wild" and "Take Notice." On the former, drums and handclaps stumble over one another as Dilla is accompanied by an ambitious, young English kid doing a spirited cover of Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize." On the latter, the slow-motion sci-fi theme from the original release's "Interlude" is extended and bolstered by a hot assist from Guilty Simpson. Nothing is likely to duke it out with Dilla's most known tracks, but the release is necessary for anyone with the slightest degree of interest.

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