Ruff Draft is ready. The multitalented musician and founding leader of the Rootnote Collective talks in a steady tone, loaning his lengthy experience to a conversation with a stranger. Evidently levelheaded, the man born Brandon boasts a humble mastery of living life: the right dose of hope, the perfect pinch of applied expertise, and a profound love for music.
Rootnote Collective formally introduced itself to the world just this year, quickly building a solid stable of beatsmith creatives. In time, passionate fans passed along the recordings. The number of supporters has gradually grown in both size and fervor, a trend sure to continue given the team’s sheer ability to achieve just about anything as a unit. The group functioned without fatal flaw to create Six Deep, its first ever compilation project released to the masses last month. In that unveiling moment alone, Ruff reached something greater.
Before he answered his phone, Draft was working on an album for a friend and collaborator of his, moving through the sometimes tedious, always telling process of mixing. A piece of jargon to outsiders and a term misinterpreted even by diehard music fans, the mix is an art in itself, one the Collective head doesn’t take lightly.
“That’s where the quality of music comes from,” he says, pondering the mix’s importance. “That’s the difference a lot of times between the music that you hear that sounds cool and the music that you hear that makes you step back, that has an effect on you…. You really want to get every sound to pop and have its own space, its own impact on the track.”
He goes on to paint a special picture: a quality mix is like a bustling highway, the instruments and sounds a series of cars cruising across the cement, each sonic vehicle demanding its own bubble. It’s a romanticized idea from an artistic individual, bringing to life pieces and pockets of audio before curating it all into the best package possible. Draft credits much of his learnings to “a long trail of running into the right people,” acquiring “good knowledge about music” as he went along his promising path.
Though such holistic reflection is indicative of Ruff’s character, positivity comes as no surprise given the hospitable climate of the place he calls home: The Bay. The legendary land of flourishing independent hip-hop has shown love to the Collective, though only a fraction of its members are actually from that location. Rootnote spans the world; a healthy majority of its producers hail from differing regions of California, while others operate in Switzerland, Massachusetts, Texas and the United Kingdom.
Though online accessibility and international connectivity have become more common sense than intuitive smarts, the cohesion gluing the diverse crew together is nevertheless impressive. Email chains, iMessage and Skype chats allow what was once impossible. In Rootnote’s instance, 20 people are united by data, software and spectrum.
Says Draft, “Just looking at the fact that all of us were able to come together…. Without the internet it would be impossible to do that. Most of us know each other because of the internet. A lot of us have been following each other or collaborating with each other for years.” Many of his colleagues came together after working with an indie cassette label, Grappa Frisbee, some of them staying in touch without ever having physically met.
Monetization is important in a world run by money, but Ruff, speaking for all of Rootnote, stresses that passion is the central driving factor behind their hustle: “We wanted to create a platform, musically and artistically, that we could participate in without any real rules. There’s so many good collectives and labels out there… there’s a lot of DIY stuff that is around, putting up some really good stuff. We just wanted to have our own thing that there were no real rules associated with. I always tell the guys that we will put out anything.”
The Collective has strict quality standards, so it will not release anything, but if the music’s good, that’s all that matters. Ruff says that genre discrimination is next to nonexistent among their camp, crafting records they love without worrying about any audience other than their own. The mentality is refreshing in that nobody is scheming to crossover and win radio spins across the country, opting instead to make what each producer likes best. If the tracks trickle into different legions of listeners because of sonic diversity, so be it. Natural growth is always welcome.
“We have a lot of guys that make house music that people don’t even know about,” notes Draft. “There’s a couple guys that make really good juke and footwork music. Obviously we have guys that do a lot of lo-fi. There’s so many types of genres that come out of Rootnote, and it’s all based off of the same feeling. We want to make music that resonates emotionally with people.”
Ruff and cofounder Gypsy Mamba, government name Darius Giurar, set out to never let green taint the unlimited color wheel at there disposable, compiled by so many talents with varying taste. No, the two governing powers of the operation never had current trends or clearly visible pathways to success and stardom in mind.
“If somebody wants to make an album with nothing but lo-fi beats on it, and do some real beat head type stuff, then we’ll support that, push it as far as we do a footwork album, or as far as we’ll push an album that has more trap influence, or more of an electronica influence.”
Artists have unabashedly thrown musical classifications to the wind for eons now, but we’ve stepped into a new era of genre-bending that receives a heightened level of acceptance, a newfound tolerance and wider appreciation for experimentation. Such a welcoming, all-inclusive outlook towards creative styles is an unspoken pillar of Rootnote, and could lead to the outfit’s good fortune. And as the future of purchased music becomes more and more grim, Ruff’s attitude towards money couldn’t be more befitting of the times: “I wasn’t trying to get rich off of making good music, or even make a living off of making music. It was a passion of mine that I could never avoid. I would always make music… the whole goal is to make music that impacts people.”
When speaking about Six Deep, Draft’s voice swells with pride, his authentic smile somehow audible: “I know it sounds cheesy, but I was really impressed with everybody’s track. Everybody carved out their own little piece of space on that compilation, and no one fell behind on it.”
His praise, though biased, is unsurprising. In an era where some might consider patience an archaic trait, all 20 members of the Collective joined forces to organically assemble a 20-track album. Somehow, it works. More often than not, the marvelous music flows from one composition to another like water whipping down a sloping mountainside. From Philippe Edison’s jazz-inspired “Time Remembered” to Brock Berrigan’s flute-fluttering, chiptune-laced “The Night Is Young,” every record deserves a play and then some. Plenty of people clicking away seem to agree.
“Our Soundcloud has been growing… We’ve had people keep asking us if we’ve been around for years. I’m like, ‘No man, we’ve been around for a little over six months now,'” Ruff says with a laugh, humbly adding, “I couldn’t have predicted the response and support that we’d get, I couldn’t have predicted that. It’s been tremendous. Really blessed for people to receive the music.”
Draft never foresaw the onslaught of support he and the Collective would accumulate. Thousands of Soundcloud plays, fans and followers later, a gathering spawned by a communal love for the art of music has the potential to become something even bigger. Does this internet-enabled, Brainfeeder-inspired band of brothers possess the know-how and good fortune to become the next Soulection? That verdict will arise in due time; until then, get back to the Root and enjoy the movement.