D. Roof (Deontae Ruth) was in eighth grade when he started rapping. Lucky for him, he had an open-minded math teacher who took him seriously and encouraged him to develop his skills.
"I used to beat on the desk and have fun on the side," says Ruth one afternoon while taking a break from his day job at Whole Foods. "The teacher pulled me aside and asked if I ever thought about doing it as a serious thing. I was 13 at the time and said, 'Not really.' But he had a studio and took me under his wing and really worked with me."
Eventually, Ruth realized he needed to produce his own music because he couldn't afford to buy beats from outside producers. Throughout high school, he competed in talent shows and developed as a rapper and lyricist. "I didn't take it that serious," he says. "There would be a couple of months when I wouldn't be doing it."
Ruth then signed with Double Up, a New York-based label that helped him issue his 2006 debut, Vaccine. Since then, he's been extremely active. He dropped a follow-up, The Addiction Album, in 2007 and The Ingredients of Ignorance in 2008. His latest release, Ens Legis, comes out this week, and Ruth celebrates its release with a Grog Shop show. The album's title derives from the Latin term for "a creature of the law," he explains. "The real name for the album was Fighting Ens Legis, so it's about fighting the corporation."
There's a heavy emphasis on the plight of the working class on the album. On the opening track, "Why Not Rebel," Ruth raps "Back when I was young/My momma used to tell me/Some things are never gonna change/You're either poor or you're wealthy" and calls the country "the divided states of America."
With references to centuries of debt ("Every 70 Years") and the manipulation of interest rates ("Words From Wall Street"), as well as the decline of U.S. currency value ("Death of the Dollar"), the album has the kind of educational focus you find in Public Enemy or KRS-One's music. "[KRS-One] was one of the people I looked up to while coming up," admits Ruth. "I try to educate through entertainment. I know our school system isn't what it should be. I know there's all kind of white lies that the government is keeping from us. I try to expose that but not be preachy. I study politics and worldly things, not for a degree, just for personal knowledge."
Ruth admits his clean raps and jazzy beats (think Common or Gang Starr) have little in common with Cleveland rappers who are obsessed with wealth and money.
"They talk about things they don't have, like a Range Rover on 42-inch rims, which is impossible," he says. "They have fun with them; I won't disrespect them. But that's what dominant."
Ruth says he has enough of a following keep him rapping. And by making his shows benefit concerts (his CD release show at the Grog doubles as a food drive), he hopes to put into practice what he preaches.
"I do have a fan base here," he says. "I run into people who congratulate me for what I'm doing. To me, this is a city more for people who are in rock bands. I've seen a hip-hop show on Thursday that draws 50 people, and the rock show on Friday will be sold out. But I'm not discouraged. I'm working at developing a fan base here."