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April 14, 2004

{     RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke     }    

rjd2_resize.jpg RJ Krohn came from out of nowhere when he released his solo debut, Dead Ringer, for the then-invincible Def Jux label, easily becoming one of the best records of 2002. Once only the humble DJ/Producer for fellow Bustown natives MHz, RJ quickly became one of the most sought-after producers in music, virtually overnight. Instrumental hip-hop records that actually hold the listener’s attention are a rare thing to come across, and although Dead Ringer included 3 tracks with vocals (including the especially strong “June”) these songs were for most, the least favorites on the LP. As excellent of an album as it was, RJ's debut was basically constructed as a mix of three types of songs: the straight hip-hop MC (safe) cuts, the uptempo hardcore hammer-of-the-gods drum-heavy instrumentals, and the slower, lighter yet equally as complicated mellow songs. Dead Ringer offered alot and meant different things to different people. One thing I find so interesting are the liner notes that exposed several once-secret vinyl spots in numerous states (a big hip-hop no-no), yet nobody really cared cause the record was so damn good. Two years, one million side projects, and two million DJ Shadow comparisons later, the new RJ solo full-length is here. The most immediate thing you will notice about this record is that it fucking rocks. The recent guest production for more-rock identified groups like Elbow and the Polyphonic Spree had undoubtedly served as a subtle hint at the new direction. We now see RJ continuing down this route, taking things several steps further by blowing the doors off with three out of the first four songs on some uptempo guitar neck jousting, dragon slaying rock shit. Evidently, since we last spoke, RJ discovered power chords, raising the level of sophistication in his guitar sample configurations (ala Def Jam-era Rick Rubin) to equal that of his always devastating drum loops. The Moby-fixation is more apparent than ever, often resulting in a mix of hard rock sensibilities and spacey, sci-fi, hot/cool bangers. This is most evident in Since We Last Spoke's title track, with its Beavis and Butthead riffs, sounds like an Amon Tobin remix of "Eye of the Tiger". Since We Last Spoke represents a definite step-forward for RJ Krohn as an artist. Infinitely times more confident on his second solo LP, RJ abandons all MC cuts completely, in favor of genre-jumping from track to track In addition to the aforementioned rock bangers (Since We Last Spoke, Exotic Talk, Ring Finger) this album also includes some definite Face-or-Kneecaps-inspired funk cuts (Someone's Second, To All of You, and Iced Lightning) and even a more latin-influenced track (Since 76). All of this fused with the combination of RJ’s intricate sample-layering as well as his flair for atmospheric space-age noodling. The only rudimentary textbook “hip-hop” song is the Pete Rock-esque DJ interlude randomly placed in the middle of the album. It seems RJ has tried to move away from an ordinary rap sound (like his Soul Position work) for a more full, realized "traditional" sound... breaking out of the traditional realm and limitations of being a solo DJ. Since We Last Spoke represents the worst case of a solo artist with band-envy since the Lonesome Organist. All this exploration in new musical ground is both impressive and daring. The burner "Clean Living" is what Jan Hammer would’ve sounded like had he signed to Rockafella records while "To All of You" reimagines AIR as Americans raised on Good Times and government cheese. The album highlight, "Making Days Longer", is about as far away from “hip-hop” song as possible, yet is one of the boldest and best songs of RJ’s career. Exploration of new sounds is a must for an artist to keep evolving. But Since We Last Spoke is, as a whole, uneven and incohesive. Plainly speaking, these bold new attempts don’t always work out. "Through the Wall" sounds like some 80s nightmare that’s less Fischerspooner, more a PCP Rick Springfield . While the album does have spectacular highlights, this album too often finds itself in the position of being the real "What Was Left Over". A second album is difficult, especially when the artist does the right thing by trying something new. There are plenty of Saturn commercials on this record, but the album’s sequencing (rock to funk to synthesizer/piano loops) is too chunky, sounding more like a collection of RJD2 EPs than the follow-up to brilliantly-mixed Dead Ringer. At the risk of being pelted by trucker hats thrown by a zillion angry Def Jukies who just discovered the label last week, let me say that the new RJD2 album is much like labelmate Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth. Both are good records, finding the artist making positive progressive steps with mostly positive results only to find them pale in comparison to the artists' prior works.

     » RJD2's official site
     » the Def Jux site


My career advice for RJ is that he needs to chill out. He's not following the rules of being a hip-hop producer at all! All those remixes, the EP, the guest spots, the mix tapes, AND the soul position stuff...what the fuck is he doing? RJ, you need to start bullshittin around, pal. Push back your release dates. Tell us of your "upcoming hip-hop musical" only to scrap it later. Start rumors of a supergroup album where you're collaborating with the Dust Brothers and/or the Automator. Releasing your follow-up only two years after your classic debut is a loser move. Making consistently good music to be released in a frequent and timely manner... that shit ain't hip hop, buddy.

Posted by: Eric Swisher at April 14, 2004 4:50 AM

Professor Swisher strikes again!
I look forward to reading further dissertations on the state of the independent hip-hop movement as defined by the DefJux label.

Posted by: Adam at April 15, 2004 5:46 PM
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