Re-released from the grave

The late, great producer J Dilla receives some much deserved respect with a reissued album

Megan Kadrmas

J Dilla is your favorite producer’s favorite producer.

The re-release of his well-known but minimally distributed “Ruff Draft” shows why artists like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Just Blaze all point to Jay Dee as a creative influence.

J Dilla
TITLE: “Ruff Draft”
LABEL: Stones Throw

Since his death in February 2006 from complications with Lupus and a rare blood disease, fans and artists alike are slowly coalescing into a Dilla cult, reminiscent of Tupac’s legacy or Biggie’s, or even ODB’s.

“Ruff Draft,” which was originally put out in 2003 on vinyl, was reported as one of the best Jay Dee albums, but most fans have yet to hear the work in its entirety.

With the expanded, two-disc, re-release of “Ruff Draft” comes both the expected and unexpected from the producer’s producer. Dilla balances boundary-pushing sounds with his perfectionism to create a classic.

The unmistakable fingerprint of J Dilla is on every track. Dilla flawlessly mixes classic hip-hop rhythms with unique audio clips and neo-soul vibes to create the sound that brought him off the streets of Detroit and onto the national scene in the late ’90s.

“Ruff Draft” also contains some of J Dilla’s most experimental work. The album was his first after the collapse of his solo project with MCA Records, and the freedom of self-production must have freed Dilla’s imagination.

This shift is evident in the layers of bizarre effects Dilla sprinkles over his classic beats, including creepy synth bleeps, warped samples and lurching rhythms.

Nowhere is this union of the experimental and professional more apparent than “Let’s Take It Back,” where Dilla masters a cacophony of individual bells into a clear and solid beat.

Although the majority of the album is about pushing sonic boundaries, for Dilla, the thumping “Crushin’ (Yeeeeaah!)” is the perfect party track. Even while using traditional hip-hop themes like getting some play, Dilla deploys unconventional warps and plays on lyrics to differentiate himself, like in the middle of the chorus, where he announces he is going to clean up “I wanna fuck all night” to “I wanna crush all night.”

Despite many fans’ worries about re-releasing the album, Stones Throw kept the integrity of “Ruff Draft” and Dilla’s legacy intact. They did tack on a few tracks at the end of the album, but these flow nicely with the rest.

One of these cling-ons is the previously unreleased, “Wild.” The high-pitched yelps of a British boy comprise most of the song’s hook, but the song is catchy as hell and will leave the little Brit in your head all day asserting, “Get wil’, wil’, wild.”

“Ruff Draft” reassures J Dilla’s following he deserves the hype he has posthumously received. Like other dead hip-hop legends, each new piece of the Dilla collection only reaffirms what fans already knew, to quote a popular T-shirt: “J Dilla changed my life.”