Saturday, January 29, 2011

Album Review: "In The Ruff" - Diamond District (2009)


I figured that since I mentioned Diamond District's In The Ruff in my review of The Left's Gas Mask, I would go ahead and make it my next project, and if you liked Gas Mask, then there is a very sizeable chance that you will also enjoy In The Ruff.

Diamond District is a trio from Washington D.C. comprised of producer/rapper Oddisee and rappers yU (who dropped a damn good album of his own, Before Taxes, in 2010) and X.O. The group certainly adopts a boom bap theme for In The Ruff (its debut album), as Oddisee displays staunch similarities to The Left's Apollo Brown (the main difference is that Oddisee also raps). Also, much like Journalist 103 (of The Left), yU, X.O., and Oddisee drop very complex and thought-provoking rhymes.

As with Gas Mask, In The Ruff received incredible reviews from bloggers and Internet hip-hop heads, many deeming it among the top albums released in 2009. I am certainly inclined to agree, as I not only think it was one of the best projects put out during that year, but one of the best of the 2000s overall.

The best part about In The Ruff is how well it all comes together as a whole, which you will soon see in the review.

Because I don't really have much more background information to give on Diamond District or In The Ruff, I will just jump right into things.


1. Intro

The album kicks off with an intro from Oddisee, who introduces himself, yU, and X.O. over a very smooth beat driven by piano hits and some banging kicks.

2. Streets Won't Let Me Chill
As nice as this cut sounds, this is just okay in comparison to the high points of the album. That little "criticism" should give you a little taste as to how good In The Ruff actually is as a whole. Anyway, the song is about how you have to be vigilant and on guard no matter what because, well, the streets won't let you chill.

3. Who I Be
It's funny, because In The Ruff really didn't get off to too great of a start, as "Streets Won't Let Me Chill" and "Who I Be" are two of the album's more meh tracks. Oddisee utilizes an Ol' Dirty Bastard vocal sample on the beat, which is pretty mediocre.

4. Back 2 Basics
Ahh. This is when things start to pick up. Oddisee's instrumental, made up of a crazy-good piano loop containing some booming kicks and hats, is sick, and all three Diamond District members tear it to shreds. Also, the beat that takes over at the 3:15 mark and plays out for the remainder of the four-minute, thirty-eight second song with Oddissee rapping over it also sounds great.

5. I Mean Business
This cut bangs. Oddisee works in a sample of Gang Starr's hit "Mass Appeal" and does it flawlessly, as it accompanies the knocker of an instrumental (those are some of the best drums I've ever heard) perfectly. Oddisee, yU, and X.O. go in on this, ripping the incredible beat to pieces and sounding as comfortable as ever in doing so.

6. Get In Line
The hook on this record is pretty good, but the rest of the song pales in comparison to the preceding two tracks. That doesn't mean this is bad, however, as Oddisee's production is solid, and all of the Diamond District members hold their own on it, especially yU, who kills this.

7. In The Ruff
The title track is the best song on In The Ruff. Oddisee's beat will throw you into another dimension, as it possesses an unbelievably soulful and nostalgic quality to it. This is the perfect cut to bump when you're driving around at night. All three rappers are right at home on the production, and the hook on this is also great.

8. The Shining
"The Shining" is the first of three songs on In The Ruff that weren't produced by Oddisee, as Dunc gets the production credit here. Nonetheless, this still sounds really good, as Dunc's beat is effectively choppy and meshes well with the rest of the album. That said, I don't understand why the group would choose to bring in the same beat change at the end of the track as it did on "Back 2 Basics." yU raps over it this time instead of Oddisee, but still...

9. The District
This is the "jazziest" beat on the album, but I wasn't overly impressed with the overall product. It's decent, but not nearly as good as some of In The Ruff's best tracks. On a side note, did I seriously hear a Young Jeezy vocal sample on this?

10. Make It Clear
This is just ill. Oddisee comes through with another jazz-twanged instrumental, and it has a very upbeat vibe to it.
The beat that takes over at the 3:02 mark and plays out for the remainder of the cut also sounds damn good (Pete Rock, anyone?). I don't have much else to say other than the fact that I really, really dig this.

11. First Time
Oddisee's beat is incredibly smooth, and the song's subject matter is probably not what you're thinking. It isn't about the first time the Diamond District members, um, did a certain something (I'll just leave it at that), but rather the first time they did/witnessed a whole bunch of things. "First Time" also marks the first (heh) of two guest appearances on the album, as R&B singer Steve Smith does the hook.

12. Let Me Explain
My second favorite song on the album. Oddisee's production couldn't possibly be any more chill, and yU's "I might as well just look at life like a pornstar, say fuck it, I'm goin' hard" line is just great (it's pretty clear to me by now that yU is the best rapper of the group).

13. Off The Late Night
Whatever you were most likely expecting in "First Time" actually takes place here, as "Off The Late Night" represents In The Ruff's sex rap. This song just seems too sleazy for Diamond District's own good, though, despite the fact that Slimkat 78's beat (yes; Oddisee did not produce this) is pretty solid. Once again, though, for the third friggin time on the album, the same breakbeat that was present on "Back 2 Basics" and "The Shining" makes an appearance at the end of this cut. Wanna take a guess who raps over it this time? Yup; you guessed it: X.O.

14. Something For Y'all
The third and final record on the album that wasn't produced by Oddisee. Kev Brown, one of my favorite beatmakers, is on the boards on "Something For Y'all" and also does some rapping (albeit only on the hook) on the joint. The song is extremely laid-back and just sounds very good overall.

15. Hologram
Love this. Oddisee's beat is fantastic, and my God does yU kill it. Outstanding way to close out In The Ruff.


In The Ruff is sick; there really is no other way to put it. From beginning-to-end, the album is full of great tracks, almost every one having definite replay value. Oddisee is both an outstanding producer and a very good rapper, and both yU and X.O. (particularly yU) round out the phenomenal trio that is Diamond District.

In The Ruff is very, very consistent, as each song meshes very well with the next, and the three Diamond District members sound equally great on every single one of them. Oddisee, yU, and X.O. are all very good lyricists and each have great deliveries that mix extraordinarily well.

This is certainly one of the best boom bap albums I've heard, and this is coming from a huge 9th Wonder and Khrysis fan. I'm not saying Oddisee is as good as either of those two producers (he isn't), but he certainly has the ability to hold his own and, clearly, produce a terrific full-length project.

In my mind, In The Ruff is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the 2000s. It represents an exceedingly steady, enjoyable listen, and its "low" points are better than most albums' highs.


1. In The Ruff
2. Let Me Explain
3. Back 2 Basics
4. I Mean Business
5. Make It Clear



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