J Dilla, Ruff Draft EP: Sampling Retrospective (2014)

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Image courtesy or Mummy/Groove Attack

Cue Records. Philadelphia. 2003. Or was it Armand’s. Yeah, it must have been Armand’s, though the memory is a bit hazy. I copped the Jay Dee Ruff Draft vinyl (Groove Attack) for probably 7.99. A record I was glad to have owned.

I was a bit of a naive listener when it came to Dilla at first. Sure I was a fan of LabCabinCalifornia and liked Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes & Life probably more than the next head. But I was curious what the hell The Ummah truly was and really thought it was little more than Q-Tip trying to re-brand himself.

When I first listened to Ruff Draft, I really dug the Intro track with its spacy mosque-like chant—from P’taah’s “Hold You Close”—and I loved the sprinkling, jangly strings of “Let’s Take It Back,” but I always found myself just skipping ahead to “Make ‘Em NV.” Fizzy Womack yelling: “Them jewels you rock/make ’em envy” over this awesome buttery sample which turns out to be John Renbourn’s “Lamento di Tristano.

I simply couldn’t fathom “Nothin’ Like This” in 2003 but the 2007 remastered reissue (Stones Throw) brought out its brilliance, the most (and maybe only) emo-sounding song Dilla ever recorded. It fits into his universal approach to music, a Detroiter who dug anything from Gary Numan to Neil Innes (reference “Wild”).

“Nothing Like This” combines sparse drums, distorted vocals and a reversed guitar sample from Dave Mason and the result is a rock-styled love song. The instrumental version (on the reissue) is exquisite when the drums drop out at the end and all you hear is the reversed guitar loop.

“Reckless Driving” (peep Peter Baumann’s “Bicentennial Present”) and “I Need The $” had driving rhythms but it was the first interlude that made the whole set for me. This interlude would be stretched out on the reissue as “Take Notice” with Guilty Simpson rhyming over it. David Bowie’s “Soul Love” was Dilla’s inspiration.

Dilla just makes you want to digital dig. Over the last two days, I’ve spent 4-5 hours lurking on whosampled.com, reading posts about some of my favorite Dilla tracks which led me to various sonic destinations: Dorothy Ashby, Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso and others.

When I first heard the Donuts promo in 2006, I was like “what the Smith? This is whatever, minute-long instrumental tracks? Fuck outta here.” Then we came to learn the story behind the album. I didn’t like Doom at first either, but at least my musical instincts aren’t as bad as this guy‘s.

Celebrate Dilla’s catalogue 365 days a year. “Come up and listen to it.”

**Post Script:

Two lyrics I got wrong from this album:

From “I Need The $”: Always thought Dilla said “Nasty percent” in the intro, turns out it’s “McNasty presents…

From “Wild”: At the end of the joint, I always thought the kid (Neil Innes’s son) said: “that’s the end of my slave song..” I thought Dilla was just bugging on this little kid using this marginally prejudiced terminology. It just made the song all the more iller to me. But the song the kid is covering is not the Quiet Riot version, it’s the Slade original, “Cum On Feel The Noise.” Slade song. Durr.

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