Back to Black
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "W & lt;/span & hat kind of f***ery is this?" cries Amy Winehouse, on "Me and Mr. Jones," her Motown coo descending momentarily into an Enfield yawp. Good question. The London chanteuse has seen fit to take all those grand old forms we luh-hu-hove to call uniquely American -- jazz, doo-wop, soul, etc. -- and give them a bit of British filth and post-millennial decadence.
And while "Mr. Jones" and first single "Rehab" spend a lot of time mining big epistemic tensions of culture and time (both show a natural end of Aretha's "Respect"), Winehouse is best when chronicling tiny moments (usually of betrayal and infidelity). "You Know I'm No Good" crackles throughout, but most of all in the final quatrain, when her guy notices a telltale rug burn.
The album's second half stays thematically strong though musically ho-hum, trailing off into a series of mid-tempo slogs. There's enough here, though, to get really excited about.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
DOWNLOAD: "You Know I'm No Good"
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & riginally released in 2003, Ruff Draft was a hard-to-find, vinyl-only album meant to sound like a cassette tape. Dilla's death has given Stones Throw reason to give it the deluxe double-CD re-issue treatment. A 2003 move to Los Angeles had yielded Jaylib, a collaboration with abstract beat-genius Madlib. Common knowledge suggested that Dilla ruminated on this breakthrough until his 2006 hip-hop collage opus, Donuts.
Common knowledge was wrong. As hip-hop history, Ruff Draft is proof that Dilla was creating a wealth of strange new music. It lends new insight into his intentionally bent vision, serving as a preview to his last-days collaborative mission: bugged-out beats and party rhymes. Had his vision came to full fruition, we might be looking at a new era of simultaneously high- and low-brow hip-hop, but as it stands, Ruff Draft is a heartwarming document of plastic keg cups, a desire to "crush all night," and spaced-out, sample-heavy musical genius.
-- ANDREW MATSON