MGF Reviews J Dilla – Ruff Draft

J Dilla – Ruff Draft (Remastered 2-disc ed.)
Stones Throw Records (3/20/07)
Rap / Hip-hop

James Yancey a.k.a. J Dilla a.k.a. Jay Dee passed away only days after the release of his classic, Donuts, last February. Stones Throw Records has decided to release Ruff Draft, which was previously available on German imprint Groove Attack, with an extra disc and the remaster treatment.

OK, now hip-hop has forever chosen to glorify and immortalize its dead members.

Biggie and Tupac were, of course, extremely successful before their deaths, but both sold more albums after their funerals than they ever did before. Lamont Coleman a.k.a. Big L was a relatively unknown emcee until he was mistakenly shot dead on the streets of Harlem (he was confused for his brother) and now, he too has sold more records dead than alive. Eminem’s best friend Proof was well-respected in underground rap circles but wasn’t nearly as talented as his superstar partner in rhyme. Nonetheless, when Deshaun Holton was killed outside of a Detroit pool hall last year, one could find internet hip-hop message board geeks hilariously crowning him as one of the top ten emcees of all-time.

Unlike the previous four artists, J Dilla was not gunned down in cold blood; he passed away last February from a TTP-related heart attack, but just like those mentioned above, his name has undeniably ballooned in the public eye since his passing.

So, should this new wave of attention be attributed to his skills or to hip-hop’s longtime attachment to its fallen soldiers?

We shall see.

The posthumous remaster/re-release of Ruff Draft is a double-disc endeavor; the first disc contains the standard version of the album while the second disc includes the instrumental version (exclusive to the re-release). Oddly enough, the two discs collectively clock in at under an hour, and there is even a good chunk of filler (pointless interludes, etc.) too.

Thankfully, the instrumental disc is without the mediocre rapping and it simply reminds us that Dilla is indeed as talented as any producer from the mid-’90s underground movement. The man who was often referred to as a “producer’s producer” displays his well-known neo-soul sound, an obvious influence on Kanye West and other top beatsmiths of today. While a handful of tracks are most impressive, a fair amount do fall short of the kind of material found on Donuts and the Madlib collaboration, Champion Sound.

I was never a huge Slum Village fan and believe Dilla’s rapping ability heavily pales in comparison to his genius production. Regardless, the Ruff Draft instrumental disc will undoubtedly be put into “the rotation” and will expectedly remain in it for weeks to come.

Did the unfortunate passing of this producer/emcee help increase his popularity? Absolutely.

Is the death-fueled attention and praise undeserved? Absolutely not.

Most will be able to live without this EP in their collections, but if you’re really searching for a piece of work to represent J Dilla’s “transitional phase”, this is sadly as good as it’s going to get.


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