Diamond District

    In The Ruff

    8.5

    The area known as the DMV (to those not in the know, the confluence of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) has produced many fine albums over the years. The projects dropped by members of the Low Budget crew — including Kenn Starr’s debut LP Starr Status and Kev Brown’s I Do What I Do, both fantastic — have made consistent splashes in the underground. A big-name artist like Wale might bring the DMV more mainstream exposure with his Top 40 singles, and in a perfect world, the Diamond District trio would do the same.

    Diamond District — rappers yU and X.O. and rapper/producer Oddisee — made itself known earlier this year when the three decided to offer the world a clean version of In the Ruff for free. This “dirty” version is available in retail stores, remastered and with two extra tracks. The album is brimming with, as Oddisee tells us over a piano loop and crunchy drums in the album-intro, that raw ’90s boom-bap, a mix of gritty percussion, menacing loops, and thudding bass. The lyrics move from reminiscences (“The First Time”) to braggadocio (“Who I Be”) to tales of street life (“Streets Won’t Let Me Chill”).

    And on “Back to Basics,” the MCs liken themselves to the ’93 version of De La Soul. While it’s a bit too early to go that far, Diamond District comes close. It isn’t all good — the members all sound the same at first, and a few tracks could have been omitted without much loss — but the low points on In the Ruff aren’t prominent enough to hinder the final product and message.