J Dilla Ruff Draft Stones Throw

Originally released in a limited vinyl-only run in 2003, this album captures the true charm of production whiz James Yancey three years before his tragic death in 2006.

Some of it sounds like pure studio meddling, but all of Dilla's work has that spontaneous feel. It's this charm - that this cat could sit down for an hour with a single clearance crate and fashion a masterpiece - that transforms what sounds like an unfinished record into a true gem for 2007.

Tracks like "Take Notice" and "Make 'Em NV" get a bit dark, with the help of vibes and a twisted synth riff; "Let's Take it Back" and "Nothing Like This" are careful to use the texture of hip-hop but expand into something fresh entirely.

Whether Dilla's posthumous release schedule will ever hit the lows of the 2Pac catalogue is uncertain, since it seems that his recent fame will encourage labels to re-release rare previous work rather than scrape together mediocre unreleased stuff.

What is for sure is that Dilla likely had much more to say before he died.

What can be inferred here, from perhaps his strongest disc? That Dilla had a sense of style and a sense of humor. That he was a fan of music, not just hip-hop. That he was supremely conscious of the original DJ credo: By reworking the music of others, you can make a beat your own.

Grade: A- Download: "Make 'em NV," "Crushin' (Yeeeaah!)," "Take Notice" Web: www.stonesthrow.com/jdilla

J Dilla Ruff Draft Stones Throw

Originally released in a limited vinyl-only run in 2003, this album captures the true charm of production whiz James Yancey three years before his tragic death in 2006.

Some of it sounds like pure studio meddling, but all of Dilla's work has that spontaneous feel. It's this charm - that this cat could sit down for an hour with a single clearance crate and fashion a masterpiece - that transforms what sounds like an unfinished record into a true gem for 2007.

Tracks like "Take Notice" and "Make 'Em NV" get a bit dark, with the help of vibes and a twisted synth riff; "Let's Take it Back" and "Nothing Like This" are careful to use the texture of hip-hop but expand into something fresh entirely.

Whether Dilla's posthumous release schedule will ever hit the lows of the 2Pac catalogue is uncertain, since it seems that his recent fame will encourage labels to re-release rare previous work rather than scrape together mediocre unreleased stuff.

What is for sure is that Dilla likely had much more to say before he died.

What can be inferred here, from perhaps his strongest disc? That Dilla had a sense of style and a sense of humor. That he was a fan of music, not just hip-hop. That he was supremely conscious of the original DJ credo: By reworking the music of others, you can make a beat your own.

Grade: A- Download: "Make 'em NV," "Crushin' (Yeeeaah!)," "Take Notice" Web: www.stonesthrow.com/jdilla

The Roches Moonswept (429)

For some reason, even people who know music, who just love that first tingle of digging through crates and collections of friends, have never heard of the Roches, a trio of lovely sisters who have made produced some of the most endearing, friendly and important folk since the 1970s.

I first heard them on a Christmas album that my parents always played. It had the sleighbells and acoustic guitar I knew and loved, but then these wise and delicate ladies would croon beautiful melodies only the sirens of old could match. Smooth as silk, as intoxcating as myrrh, they were.

Allmusic.com critic Thom Jurek put it succinctly, describing how the ladies form a "chord" of voices, rather than put two backers behind a lead: "More than this is the poetic unspeakable notion of how all of everyday life with its losses, loves, noble aspirations, and petty resentments exists in the space between those voices."

This album, their first since 1995, continues their trademark style and a simple brand of songs alternately lighthearted and pensive.

Other groups are desperate to update folk music by adding electronics, topical politics or a slightly distorted edge. Terre, Maggie and Suzzy remain content and powerful doing what they've always done: captivate listeners with a homey blend of the most beautiful sounds made by the human voice.

Grade: B+ Download: "Moonswept," "Us Little Kids" Web: www.roches.com

Young Buck Buck the World G Unit

Looking at the disco era from the fancy vantage of the present, it's easy to see why people eventually soured on the genre - why so many put away their spoons on necklaces and their platform boots.

Even the most casual music fan can take the same stuff regurgitated for so long, and until the '90s, no genre fell as hard into its own trappings as that most venerable genre fashioned from funk by the Gibb brothers.

If records like the new one from G Unit star Young Buck is any indication, gangsta rap will soon suffer the same fate - bandied into irrelevance by its penchant for recycling and its placement of status above style.

Much has been written about why hip-hop has experienced declining sales and critical respect and increased scrutinty from groups trying to promote a positive image of African Americans. They point to profanity, rampant misogyny and the lyrical promotion of violence.

Few, though, look at the actual music - which is what fans hear first and eventually what drives them away. And the musical template doesn't change much from Young Buck to Yung Joc. Pair a tough, decent rapper with a few big-name producers and let them talk about the same old topics. Most times, the only thing that changes is the rapper's hometown, which is usually included in the lyrics several times.

Buck's new disc contains 17 songs about coming from, remaining on and ruling the streets. It includes symphonic and orchestral samples, stacatto beats, a few vocals influenced by '70s soul and some of the cameos scattered on most contemporary rap albums. (Thanks, Snoop. Nice job.)

Guns, violence, women; verse, chorus, verse. It's fairly catchy rap wrapped in a structure more dated and hackneyed than the Hilary Duff record that also arrived on my desk last week.

There's nothing wrong with tracks like "Buck the World," "Get Buck" or "Hold On"; they show a nice swagger with a nice beat. But that's the point: How many times have I heard them already?

Grade: C+ Download: "Get Buck," "Buck the World" Web: www.young-buck.com