The Underrated: David Ruffin's Who I Am

By @SpeedontheBeat

Oh, you knew this one was coming--especially considering "Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health" ended up being the basis for one of my earlier singles. David Ruffin had a very underrated solo career that is often overshadowed by his Temptations work. His solo career usually gets balled up into the rest of the Temptations' solo careers. Either that or it ends up being summarized by the following quote from the Temptations biopic:

While funny--and potentially true, since you damn near never hear Otis on lead--it's unfair to Ruffin's legacy to do so. But, enough background chit-chat. Let's go into one of this underrated legend's most-underrated albums, 1975's Who I Am.

The album is straight-up disco soul, and it's unashamed of it. That could very well be the reason why some disregard it. However, there are many elements of funk and blues which keep the album from falling into the pitfalls of other disco-drenched albums. Ruffin employed the musical stylings of the legandary Van McCoy--who was fresh off "The Hustle" and cranked out an album which was a drastic change from Ruffin's previous albums.

Where many of Ruffin's earlier hits focused more on his slightly-unorthodox voice, Who I Am paired his vocals with big-production instrumentation. It felt as if Ruffin had an entire orchestra behind him, each part of the presentation trying to keep up with each other. The album itself was also smooth. Ruffin's vocals blended into the instrumentation and hammered home messages of unity, individuality, and more.

Additionally, the album shows Ruffin at, for me, his most-vulnerable. With tracks such as "Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health," his cover of "Statue of a Fool," and "Walk Away From Love," Ruffin lets his soul glow and his mind be free, creating memorable, unrestrained moments. It helps that these tracks are a bit softer, instrumentally, than the rest of the album. Essentially, we're given that "Classic Ruffin" over instrumentation which allows him to flex his vocal muscles, going from falsetto runs back to a lower register.

Now, let us discuss what became my favorite Ruffin song, "Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health." When I first heard this song, it was in 2012. I was in the middle of crafting DOA beats for True and dealing with a lot of things, personally and romantically. Simply put, I was dealing with some heartbreak and craziness, most of which of my own making (but that's neither here nor there, truthfully, since that got hashed out).

The song's intro draws you in and makes you want to know why he's advising heartbreakers and love-takers to "beware." The disco soul element is in full-play here, with Ruffin speaking on the dangers of complacent love and dealing with heartbreakers. The chorus is simple, but engaging enough that it can get caught in your head. And, the bridge after the second verse? For me, that was one of the best bridges I've heard from Ruffin's work. We're led into it by Ruffin's wailing and we're given an instrumental take on the verse section of the song, with added instrumentation. For me, it swept over me and took me hostage, only letting me go when I decided to play around with the song for 2012's "Heartbreaker," one of those songs, along with "#TREEKA" I don't really talk about (not because they're bad, per se; they're just out of place as hell).

Unfortunately, finding this album is like finding a needle in a haystack and you may end up having to stream it via a YouTube post. But, if you can find it? Get it. Now.


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