Stones Throw Records is home to some of the most immaculate, off-the-wall producers and musicians that the industry has ever seen, but none are more abstract, more distant from the line of normality than Vex Ruffin. Ruffin has always been wiling to work for himself and learn from his mistakes as he explains on Stones Throw’s Artist Page, “Like most people in their twenties I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until 2004 when I purchased the cheapest instrument I could find: a Boss 303 Sampler. With no formal training and just a D.I.Y. mentality, I got to work.”
Ruffin’s newest record, Conveyor is one of mystery and bitter intrigue. It makes the listener question just exactly what is being looped and replayed over and over, almost making Conveyor seem like an auditory journey through multiple genres of music. At moments, it feels like a midnight creep with paranoia, depression, and despair slowly encasing in over your shoulders; then in a moment’s notice, the mood changes entirely. Conveyor has a certain sense of wonder and awe when first approached, it appears as a large machine of a million moving parts but is also simple and unparalleled by anything that surrounds it. By standing alone and being a genre-blending, internal struggle producing record, Conveyor lives on as its own entity. It is a strange, off-kilter mix of emotion that acts as a breeding ground for obscurity and begs to be revisited over and over again.
The general sound of Vex Ruffin’s Conveyor is almost indescribable, it approaches a wide range of different fronts and combines such a large and substantial amount of sounds that it is difficult to fit the album into one single genre, and Ruffin does not want that. His music is comfortable in the distant levels of sound, it primarily keeps a hip-hop style with the instrumentals, but includes a variety of sampled instruments that keep Conveyor never feeling pigeon-holed. From starting tracks, “3 AM,” “The World,” and “The Balance,” which features Fab 5 Freddy, are all musically minimalistic and approachable. Especially, “The Balance” as it sounds like a simple two-step dance track, but included a jazz style of 70’s rumble bass and includes Vex Ruffin’s smooth, almost eerie voice over the whole mix.
Minimalistic approaches are going to be the on-running theme of Conveyor, there is not a single track that feels overly complicated or too crammed together, Ruffin does a fantastic job of keeping everything feeling spacious and full of breath. Even when the instrumentals become more complex and layered, like on the track “The Calling,” Ruffin still manages to keep levels of space and a vulnerable percussive backbeat that is easy to spot behind the chaos. These backbeats are the most important portions of the instrumentals as they keep the music moving on a steady pace, but also does not over complicate the process. Coming hot off the heels of the more dance-esque style of “The Calling,” the track “Own Lane” feels sporadic and mixes quite well with the following, “Front.” They are both mixed and cut tracks that includes a slight thirty-six-second interlude in between that has sampled screaming and cuts the voices before they can reach the full climax of the agonized yells.
“Head Hurts” is where the paranoia feeling sinks the hardest and is where Conveyor sounds more daunting, almost where the voices lead into “Front” feels like a sigh of relief as “Front” acts more of a back to business style of track where Ruffin’s uses hi-hats, tom drums, and an echoed voice to bring the synth-trance dance sound to the forefront. To see Ruffin consistently move from track to track and keep a level of atmospheric pressure on the listener is incredible, he creates and invokes pure, raw emotion with the way the percussion sounds off a certain beat, how the hi-hat slowly rattles, or when suddenly an 808 flashes into frame like a burst of lightning.
Even as Conveyor begins to reach the final acts, it still continues with the same intensity and emotion that was spawned from the start of the record. Ruffin’s makes a point to keep a trance moving through and taking over, the track “Let You Down” is something almost reminiscing of a Black Pus track if it has less screaming and softer, more approachable percussion. The sudden clicks of the 808 kit make for a sporadic style of play, as well as combining the reverbed sounds in the background that make up the supporting aspect of the instrumental are again, filled with mystery and beg for questioning.
Vex Ruffin is a one of a kind artist that stands out among the crowd for his impeccable style and his demented production that feels like a roller coaster of emotions. One second, his production is incredibly frightening and creates mass panic; the next, it is comfortable and the beat produces movement. For an artist that has a D.I.Y. attitude, Vex Ruffin goes about music correctly in every possible way.