RJD2: On the Other Hand

There was an article that came out around the time of RJD2’s release of The Third Hand album that said Hip-Hop fans shouldn’t buy the album simply based on principle. To put it mildly, The Third Hand was different. There is no way one can look at his 2002 album Dead Ringer, or even 2004’s Since We Last Spoke, and see how The Third Hand follows any type of connection to his previous two albums. Hell, he sung on the album. But spirited producers have always found a way to reinvent themselves and make something come out of left field when fans are expecting the music to follow in the same vain as a previous release. Though it could be said that Philadelphia-based producer RJD2 is losing his core audience of listeners while blurring the traditional definitions of musical genres such as Hip-Hop, there is no denying his stellar track record, whether it be from his years on Definitive Jux, his two collaboration albums with Blueprint under the Hip-Hop moniker Soul Position or this year’s album The Third Hand on XL Recordings. It’s not necessarily that RJD2 is trying to buck trends or go against the status quo; he is simply doing music his way. As someone who is always searching for albums that will blow his own mind away, making anything less than mind-blowing music isn’t acceptable for RJD2. When it’s all said and done, RJD2 will walk away knowing he’s got a more diverse catalog of music than most other producers in his field. Nearly five months after the release of The Third Hand, RJD2 sat down with AllHipHop.com to clarify why he’s not bothered by not fitting into classifications anymore with his music, and how he’s stepping back from simply handing out beat CDs and getting into the studio more to work with artists. AllHipHop.com: There are some people that said RJD2 “abandoned” Hip-Hop. Do you think it’s fair to say this?RJD2: Well, I personally don’t feel like I abandoned anything. But ultimately, those kinds of things are in the eye of the beholder. I can think of a number of times when artists have done things, made records, did shows or collaborations that would imply that kind of thing. And I’ve never really been one to care either way. For example, I’ve always just assessed records on a case-by-case basis. I’ve found that trying to read into what certain records or songs will mean for an artists future doesn’t serve me well as a listener and fan of music. When Common put out Electric Circus, a Common fan at the time could have said any number of things: he abandoned Hip-Hop, this is the future of Hip-Hop or I don’t care either way. It’s just a record that Common made. He can do whatever he wants. AllHipHop.com: What do you think you did that would lead people to say this about you?RJD2: S**t. Have you heard The Third Hand?AllHipHop.com: I have, but nonetheless, an artist has to grow and experiment in his own way.RJD2: Of course I agree. And if I really wanted to, I’m sure I could come up with an argument that could potentially cast that record as a candidate for inclusion into the “genre of Hip-Hop.” I think that at a point, I sort of … hit a wall, as far as debating the status of state of any field of music.AllHipHop.com: So given that, knowing that making The Third Hand and how it was going to come out, did you foresee people saying something like that about you?RJD2: I was well aware that this record had a good chance of being divisive. I guess I just became comfortable with the possibility of that. I think in a way, I’ve always been drawn to the people and the records that shake things up, especially in rap. But even in other genres, you know that feeling you get of turning on the radio and hearing “Ghetto Musik,” “What You Know” or “Are You That Somebody?” In a way, it’s a ghost I sometimes think I’m going to perpetually chase. I think that I spent so much of my developmental years in music in a field, Hip-Hop, where going against the grain, or bucking the status quo was the goal of music, that I may have internalized that aspiration to a point where now it’s just normal. As a listener, I still want to hear that new record that’s going to blow my mind, because it’s good and because it’s not what I expected. So as a guy who makes records, that’s naturally going be the type of record I’m going to want to make.AllHipHop.com: To that extent, is Hip-Hop still playing a central role in terms of your production duties?RJD2: See, that’s a tough question. To be honest, I don’t know how to define the term “Hip-Hop” anymore. For some reason, and I’m not saying this to cop out of the question, everything just seems blurred to me now. For example, I’ve sat down at a sampler that is typically used to make a beat for a rapper and made a song that sounded as close to a Rock song or an R&B song as I could get. And I’ve recorded some like playing in Protools that ended up being the background for a rapper. So it’s very hard for me to make a distinction about genres now. If you are asking if working with a rapper plays a central role, then I would say that it could be. It could not be it all. It depends on what’s coming down the pipeline.AllHipHop.com: So what’s “changing,” for lack of a better word, inside you that’s now blurring the lines of how to define your music in terms of putting into a genre such as Hip-Hop?RJD2: I think the main thing is that I just don’t care about classifications. It would be a struggle for me to try and define what I consider the boundaries of a genre and then try to fit in, or not fit in. When I’m working on music, I’m shooting for a vibe, a rhythm, a tone or a flavor; it’s never a conscious attempt to include this, or exclude that.I think another thing for me is that the more I spend time listening and picking apart music, the more I realize the lineage of different things, and it makes defining things that more confusing. You realize how piecemeal s**t really is sometimes. I also feel like it does a disservice to my ears to be preoccupied genres. If I just listen to music without thinking about it, I start to get more out of it. I want to say that I realize that all this talk about not caring about genres could be interpreted as not caring about what’s in those genres, which is not at all the case.AllHipHop.com: Though, to your credit, you did produce the track “Best Kept Secret” for the Little Brother/Mick Boogie mixtape And Justus for All. When did that happen and how did it come about?RJD2: That was fun. Those guys are laid back as hell. I’m a big fan of Phonte. And I wanted to do some work with him. So I sent him some beats. That one ended up getting used for their mix tape. Phonte and I did another song together that is possibly out now. It’s an iTunes exclusive. It’s RJD2 featuring Percy Miracles. I think it’s possibly the last appearance of Percy before he left the earth. Rest in Peace.AllHipHop.com: There are also some that say your introduction and rise

to production stardom has paralleled producer 9th Wonder’s path. Do you

think this is true?

RJD2: I can kind of see that. Of course there are differences. 9th

obviously took that s**t to the moon and back. And I couldn’t be

happier for him. There was a point in time where I wanted to have the

opportunities 9th has/had. I realized that in a lot of ways, what I

want to accomplish as an artist required me to move in a different

direction. I basically chose to sink a lot of my time into a solo

career as an artist, rather than a producer. I don’t regret anything

because I look back on everything I’ve done with pride. But yes, there

are days where I wish I could have done a track with Jay-Z, of course.

Who hasn’t?

AllHipHop.com: But as someone who could have taken the same direction

as 9th and become a producer, what led you to say that you were going

to pursue a more solo effort with your music?

RJD2: Well, for one thing, I need to make a disclaimer. I’m not stating

that I could have gone the 9th route, because honestly I may not even

have the talent. You can only say that you do once you’ve already done


But yes, I could have chosen to go the same route as a freelance

producer. One reason I didn’t think it was practical is that I realized

that being a hotshot producer to a certain degree requires you to

repeat yourself. People used to call me up all the time for production

and give me examples of what I did: “Give me some s**t that sounds like

that Diverse track,” [“Explosive,” from Diverse’s 2003 album One A.M.]

or “I want that ‘June’ type vibe” [from RJD2’s 2002 album Dead Ringer].

And I knew all along that repeating myself was not something I wanted

to get boxed into. S**t, picture me in the studio, I finally got to

work with Snoop, and I’m like, “Big Snoop Dogg, I think we should mess

with this disco bass line type of s**t because it’s going to be fun.”

Then the crickets come in and it’s a wrap, you know?AllHipHop.com: It was rumored that you were going to be handling some of the production for Mos Def’s 2006 album True Magic. Was there any truth to this rumor?RJD2: It was just rumor. I don’t know where that came from. It could have been from me mentioning people I wanted to work with and his name coming up. I don’t know. AllHipHop.com: Does that happen a lot with you? Do you find your name getting attached to projects a lot that is really only rumor?RJD2: I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the rumor mill. But there have been a few projects that people have come up to me and asked about that have me scratching my head. For example, there was a rumor that Talib Kweli and I were doing a record in a cave somewhere. I was in Australia a year or two back and read it in a magazine. That’s my favorite rumor. AllHipHop.com: Do you find that you’re producing more now or less than you used to?RJD2: Probably less, as of late. But I’ve also been doing my own record and stuff so that could affect it. I just got asked to work on the next record of a very big rap group that I’m of course not going to mention. But before that, it had been a little while since I had been asked to work on a rap record. I’ve mostly been the kind of guy to just see what floats my way, and either do it or pass on it. I got asked to produce a song for a rock singer on XL [Recordings], which I did recently. I don’t get asked for beats like I did a few years back. I know that the budget for outside work has dried up in the major label world because I used to get asked to do more remixes. I have been told that when labels started to tighten the purse strings, remixes were one thing that got cut back on.AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like not being asked to do as much as you were doing a few years back is hurting you in any way as an artist?RJD2: Honestly, I made a conscious decision to work my way out of doing beats for cats all the time. One of the things that started to bother me, and this is something I think I may have spoken about in a “less than eloquent” manner, is that it started to not feel right to me to just be sending beat CDs around as a way to make records. AllHipHop.com: When you first came out, you praised artists Freeway and Ludacris as artists you wished to work with. Did you ever make an attempt to produce a song with them?RJD2: Yes, I did. That s**t was like trying to break into Fort Knox. I finally got a beat CD to [Ludacris' manager] Chaka [Zulu], who on no less than three occasions told my connection that he had not listened to it, and that he was really busy. I tried to get with Freeway on some music. I got sent to his tour manager. If that’s not the ultimate “okey-doke,” I don’t know what is. Here is the problem: I’m not into fanfare. I’m not the guy who is going to be a loudmouth, braggadocio about all the work I’ve done and all the records I’ve sold over the years, etcetera, just to get you to listen to a CD. So here is little old me, talking to these Hollywood managers. Of course they are going to blow me off.And it makes perfect sense. I could just be some scrub with a SK-500 who has never made a record before. All that red tape is another thing that made me realize that being a producer on that level takes a lot of work in the field of networking.AllHipHop.com: Would you still work with them if you got the opportunity?RJD2: I want to be clear, I am in no way bitter or miffed about the “industry.” If anything, I think it’s all pretty funny. I’ve got a very healthy solo career. But sure, if any of those guys wanted to, of course I would be game.AllHipHop.com: Now that it’s 2007 and you have three major releases to your name, is there any one else who you’d enjoy working with on a song that you haven’t already gotten the opportunity to work with?RJD2: Ne-Yo, Anthony Hamilton, Amy Winehouse. I mean, there is a big old list. Kanye West, 50 Cent, Beanie Sigel, Nas. I don’t know where to start or stop. It’s all over the place. There are a good number of singers that you may or may not have heard of: Jose Gonzales, Kings of Convenience, Arctic Monkeys. AllHipHop.com: What does the future hold for RJD2?RJD2: [Quoting his 2002 song "Smoke & Mirrors] “Who knows what tomorrow may bring.” Sorry, I had to. I’m going to just see where I land; whatever happens. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m going to keep making solo records and there is a possibility that I may look back on a catalog that is less than homogenized.AllHipHop.com: Lastly, only because you live in the Philadelphia area: what is your favorite place to go eat cheese steaks?RJD2: Tony Lukes! But I’m hoping they don’t take over the spot in the [Reading] Terminal Market. Even though I am wholeheartedly for the consumption of meat, the veggie steak place on Broad and South [Streets] is pretty damn good.