Originally released in small quantities on Mummy Records in 2003 as a vinyl-only EP and posthumously produced for reissued by Egon for Stones Throw in 2007 J. Dilla's Ruff Draft was a bold declaration of independence from an artist 10 years into his career – an artist still cloaked in rookie hunger and ambition despite a operating at the peak of both his creative and technical talents. Though the EP would go on to attain legendary status following Dilla's passing in 2006, the original edition of the album was marred by poor sound, resulting from lackluster vinyl mastering. The 2007 reissue was produced during a period when Dilla's original mixes were thought to be lost, and the album was remixed by engineers Dave Cooley and Kelly Hibbert from the original multitracks.
In the course of preparing the release of Dilla's long thought lost solo debut, issued in 2016 as The Diary, Cooley uncovered Dilla's original mixes for Ruff Draft, alongside a second version where Dilla added a layer of what – true to the "straight from the muh'fuckin' cassette" mission statement Dilla articulates on the introduction to the EP – can only be described as "cassette tape distortion." The title – Ruff Draft: Dilla's Mix – clarifies what this album attempts: deferral to the vision of a departed genius. As such, the album is presented as a double LP, with the first LP presented exactly as Dilla had intended, using his exact mixes. The second LP presents the could-have-been album, with Dilla's alternate tracks mixed over the course of two years by Hibbert so as to match Dilla's original vision, and slotted into sequence.
Ruff Draft: Dilla's Mix, strives to place within the hip-hop canon another album that Dilla's growing legion of disciples can indulge in and be inspired by. Prior to Ruff Draft, the public knew Dilla's music mostly through collaborations, productions for others and group efforts, many or major labels. But this project was all him. Ruff Draft is an experimental and genre-expanding outing that marked Dilla's willing return to the minor leagues, where he refined his approach and became one of the game's major players. Yet, besides the few fans that own an original 2003 issue of Ruff Draft can claim to have heard anything close to what the producer himself.
As such, the issue of Ruff Draft: Dilla's Mix will be, for many, a moment akin to Apple Records 2014 issue of the Beatles' mono-mixed albums or the 2014 issue of Lou Reed's "closet mix" of the third Velvet Underground album – the first wide release of this crucial hip hop music in line with Dilla's intentions. Reed, speaking about his mix of the Velvet Undergound, wrote that its intention was to "get directly to somebody, unfiltered... So, if you listen to the record, it's like sitting across from you." He could have been speaking about this album.