May 4, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Diamond District - In The Ruff (April 14, 2009)

Diamond District is a Washington DC-area trio made up of rappers yU, X.O., and rapper-slash-producer Oddisee, who is pretty much the ringleader here (which is why his name appears above the title on the album cover). Their debut album, In The Ruff, comes after the release of a couple of singles that were aimed toward hip hop heads who longed for how our chosen genre used to sound, back when the artists dictated how the radio should sound and not vice versa.

All three artists aren't new to the game, but the best-known of the crew has to be Oddisee, thanks to his knack for popping up on hip hop blogs with new songs and projects and the like. He quickly became an online favorite and has developed quite a following, and as a result, In The Ruff was actually made available for free download on April 14, 2009.

Yeah, that's right: free.

The caveat is that the version of In The Ruff floating around is actually the clean version, so fans of curse words may be fucking annoyed as balls, but I assume that this is simply a ploy to get people to pay cold hard cash for the right and ability to hear the word "fuck". Which won't really matter if the music doesn't sound any good, of course. But the fact that In The Ruff is almost entirely guest-free (having three guys in the crew means less time for random cameos, I suppose) and is mainly produced by Oddisee himself (who handles all but two of thirteen tracks) is definitely a mark in the "pro" column.

Other than the goofy numeration used for the tracklisting, this rap album intro is surprisingly not pretentious, as Oddisee simply explains the reason why the group formed. He comes off sounding like a true hip hop fan, which is a plus, and the instrumental sets the story of In The Ruff nicely.

I'm not a fan of the vocal sample used on here, but these motherfuckers weren't lying in their press release: the boom bap entices you immediately, and all three rappers proceed to rip shit in a manner consistent with how all of those no-name rappers tore up DJ Premier's instrumentals in the early part of the new millennium. I could listen to hip hop like this all goddamn day.

02. WHO I BE
This shit is dope. (Or, at least whatever today's equivalent of “dope” might be.) Dusty, Wu-sounding drums (although I'll admit that the Ol' Dirty bastard vocal sample may be skewing my perception) combined with the melody make for a perfect marriage, one with a dream house, a dog, and 2.5 children. The only complaint I have for what was the first released single from this project is in regard to the distorted synth sounds on the hook, which are unnecessary. Once again, all of the rappers impress. It's almost as if they actually tried or something.

Comparing the Diamond District to “the '93 version of De La [Soul]” is a bold statement, one which isn't completely justified, but these guys do work well together. “Back To Basics” presents listeners with a much more subdued beat that the previous two tracks, although it still manages to knock. I have to admit, I'm pretty entertained right now. (That last sentence almost guaran-fucking-tees that I'm going to be disappointed very soon, though. I probably shouldn't have written it: it's like the hip hop equivalent of the Bundy curse.)

Oddisee's beat sounds good for this, the second single, but it also sounds like the type of instrumental Curtis Jackson would commandeer for another one of his bullshit street tales, circa The Massacre. (You live in Connecticut! What the fuck is scary about Connecticut? Besides the house in that movie, which I'm pretty sure wasn't your house, although I can't confirm that fact, as I try to avoid PG-13 horror movies, as I see them to be pointless.) That statement (well, everything except all of the Curtis stuff) isn't meant to be negative, though: it just means that the song isn't as engaging as the previous tracks, but I'd still bump this shit on repeat rather than listen to the radio.

I like how the last song seamlessly transitions into this one, but that may be due to the fact that the beats sound too similar for comfort. Oh, well. This particular song isn't very memorable, anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter.

In contrast, I'm loving the beat on this title track: it screams out for a mixtape-only remix featuring as many other artists that it can fully support without having to take on a second job and a third mortgage. Although I'm not the biggest fan of R&B hooks, when they work, they just click, and this song clicks away.

I have a feeling that a lot of the two readers that will actually take the time to listen to In The Ruff will love this track, but it didn't do anything for me. I much preferred the simple breakbeat that comes after the song is already over.

Oddisee's beat is Pete Rock lite, minus the extensive use of horns. Which is to say, this song actually sounds great. The only misstep would have to be the Jay-Z sample in the hook, and yes, that's coming from an admitted Hova stan. The instrumental pushes through at a hurried pace, and Oddisee, yU, and X.O. all adapt appropriately.

Oddisee's instrumental is too busy, kind of like some of Just Blaze's worst beats, so everybody sounds like they're spitting to the film score of some 1970's action movie. The music is good, and the lyrics are decent, but the combination of the two falters.

This song is too long, but for a nostalgic throwback to a mid-1990s sex rap, it's not bad. As with all sex raps, though, a lot of this comes off as a Penthouse Forum posturing and not as a true story, but it is what it is. The Slim Kat 78 beat isn't bad, though.

The dark beat marches along while the rappers attempt to explain...well, whatever it is that rappers feel the need to explain, and the track works beautifully. I was even able to look past the blatant four-bar jacking of Hova's “Dead Presidents”, although even Jay-Z haters (and I know there's a lot of you that read my blog) have to admit that track is better source material than, say, “Big Pimpin'”.

Diamond District run through a list of various firsts over a chilled-out instrumental. A pretty good way to end an album, even if this particular song features an R&B hook that doesn't really fit.

THE LAST WORD: In The Ruff is actually really fucking good. The beats, for the most part, all scream New York circa 1994 through 1997, which isn't bad for some folks from the District of Columbia. Oddisee, yU, and X.O. all do their part to further the belief that hip hop actually isn't dead yet, with lyrics that add some vivid details to the usual rapper bullshit, and I mean that in a nice way. Pound for pound, In The Ruff holds its own with the more high-profile releases of 2009 so far, and in many ways is much more enjoyable, especially when you compare it to, say, the Asher Roth album. I urge every one of you two readers to download this album now, since Diamond District is offering it for free and all; the fact that it's a clean version, with all of the naughty words deleted, doesn't really distract from the overall listening experience in the least (well, except for during the sex rap). But when the uncensored version becomes available, you should definitely support the group by purchasing a copy. This shit is really that good.

Here's the link to the Diamond District's official website, where you can find more information about copping this shit for free. I understand it may be a limited time offer, but still.



  1. AnonymousMay 04, 2009

    reminds me of black market militia

  2. Haha, i was actually gonna write you a mail to check this shit out cause i was 100% sure you' d gonna love this as much as i do! Definitely my fav album of 09 so far... and there's a good chance it'll hold onto the nr.1 spot!

  3. AnonymousMay 05, 2009

    track one review 'listen to hip hip..." - your grammar/spelling nazi
    good review will check for them

  4. Hilarious! Whatever the hell "hip hop" is, anyway...duly noted and updated.

  5. Definitely one of my favorites - and as an old head, I appreciate the clean version (got kids now!).

    If anyone wants the free download, you can also get it @

  6. AnonymousMay 13, 2009

    Awesome album

  7. AnonymousJune 04, 2009

    i think this is a very good album

  8. this album is fucking fire! and im from connecticut and your right max theres nothing scary about connecticut. o and awesome review

  9. Excellent album.

    I Mean Business is just too good.

  10. This album sits in my cd player on repeat, its THAT good. Definitly deserves more attention