Columbus, Ohio’s RJD2 first earned a name for himself
with 2002’s Dead Ringer, an engaging and creative instrumental hip-hop
album that quickly garnered massive critical acclaim and put him in the upper
echelon of the genre.
After numerous side projects and remixes, he
recently released Since We Last Spoke, a wildly eclectic album that focuses
as much on his songwriting abilities as on his beat-making ones.
Like his beats, RJ’s speech takes multiple ideas
and lays them all down at once, with many more sentences started than finished.
Allhiphop.com was one of the first media outlets to buzz in RJ, so we had to
see how our boy was kicking.
AllHipHop.com: When Dead Ringer came out,
you said you wanted your next album to be more cohesive. Did this goal change
while you were making Since We Last Spoke and if not, do you feel you’ve
RJD2: Personally, I feel like it’s a cohesive
piece, but it might be a little bit schizophrenic for the listener. If you were
listen to the most quiet moment on the record and then the loudest song on the
record, it might not make any sense, and I didn’t realize that going into the
record. To me it’s cohesive because other than this one vocal performance, everything
else I did, so for me this is kinda a selfish record, ya know?
AllHipHop.com: Was it a conscious decision to
put more of an emphasis on songwriting on this one?
RJD2: It’s been my goal for a long time even
with Dead Ringer, when I started on that record. When I started doing
solo records, I kinda thought, well what is everybody else doing and what are
peoples’ specialties and what aren’t people doing. So-and-so can do drums better
than me, and so-and-so’s got the fresh loops. I can’t do any of these different
things so I gotta find something that I can do. I feel like the biggest challenge
was to approach things like a song and try to make a bunch of s**t happen in
close to three and a half minutes.
AllHipHop.com: It sounds like you’re making music
based on your own perception of your limitations.
RJD2: Yeah, but I want to get past the limitations.
By nature, if you’re working on a sampler and you’re making beats and stuff,
there are easy tendencies to fall into. One of those tendencies being just making
things that’s repetitive and loopy, and that’s just the nature of making anything
that’s sample-based. That’s why Rap music is repetitive. Because it’s easy to
make it. A lot of Rock bands’ songs are in E because it’s the easier key to
play in than another key. For me I try to meet those things head on. Early on
I decided, the hardest challenge on a sampler would be to make it sound like
it’s not a sampler. Approach it using the methodology and approaches that bands
use and I was trying to do that on Dead Ringer, I just don’t think that
I had my s**t together.
AllHipHop.com: Did you have any sort of concept
for the album going into it?
RJD2: Initially, there was. But I abandoned it.
I was thinking, what if I could try to make a record that was what I was hoping
these Rock records by The Strokes and The White Stripes were gonna be? I like
the Strokes a lot, but the rhythm section didn’t smack like I wanted it to.
I wanted the album to be melodically inspired by those groups but the rhythm
section inspired more by R&B. So I started on that and that’s why some of
the first songs sound maybe a little bit rocky and then after a point, I just
said, this is stupid. And there were times when I’d be just making s**t not
like that, but fun and I was enjoying myself. So I abandoned the idea of having
an agenda or a concept album.
AllHipHop.com: Did Rock have as much of an effect
on you growing up as Hip-Hop?
RJD2: Yeah, it definitely did. Rock is my thing.
I think the overall, general ethic behind my favorite Rock records and my favorite
Hip-Hop records is exactly the same. It really, really makes sense to me from
a musical standpoint why Rock played such a huge part as sample fodder in early
Hip-Hop. There’s a part of me that kinda feels like I’m almost shooting for
the same thing. There isn’t a lot of difference in my head.
AllHipHop.com: Have you heard any songs that
you’ve given other rappers that you wish you kept for yourself to experiment
RJD2: Nah, I’m glad that that s**t’s out there.
I don’t want to be the guy that gives all of his second-rate s**t to the rappers.
I’d like to have some decent s**t floating out there. Maybe 100% of that attention
isn’t diverted directly back to me. I can live with that. For the small handful
of people that know I did [Diverse’s] "Big Game," these are dumb,
little 4-bar loops that are as least as difficult and important as any of the
technical s### I pulled off on [this album].
AllHipHop.com: How much of the live show is improvised?
RJD2: Oh, none of it. Little parts can change
here and there but the segways from one portion to another can’t change because
that s**t’s so hard to work out. It’s not the kind of set where it’s like, "Oh
you got two minutes of an outro so just mix in the next beat whenever you want."
Even the MPC s**t is set up in a manner that’s like, ok, well this beat, you’ve
got eight bars of outro. And when it’s done, the beat stops. So if you don’t
have the next record cued up and blended in, you’re f***ed. There’ll be silence.
And you’ll be standing there, in front of a big crowd of people with no music
AllHipHop.com: What equipment do you use on stage?
I saw 4 turntables and a MPC.
RJD2: That’s it. I want it to be some simple
s**t that everybody can understand.
AllHipHop.com: And you don’t use a lot of equipment
when making beats, right?
RJD2: Naw, pretty much the MPCs.
AllHipHop.com: Would you change anything on Dead Ringer now?
RJD2: Yeah, there’s songs I’d cut. Part of the
arrangement of [this album] was I wanted to have it real tight. I didn’t want
to have any portions that were unnecessary for the song. And I felt that there
were things on Dead Ringer that were just a little too meandering for
my taste. Like, something like "Silver Fox" I don’t think even needs
to be on there. With this new record, I was trying to make a record that was
just short and to the point. Even if you didn’t like it, you could appreciate
that it was direct.
AllHipHop.com: Do you have any sales expectations?
Will you be disappointed if it doesn’t do well?
RJD2: I’ll be honest with you, I got the first
week’s Soundscan numbers and I was a little disappointed just on a business
sense. Dead Ringer didn’t really start to sell until three months after
it was out.
AllHipHop.com: Do you take it personally?
RJD2: Naw, it’s just business. It’s just music.
Really to me, it’s just business s**t. Did we spend enough on marketing? Did
we approach this right? Did we get the single out on time? All that stupid little
s**t that doesn’t matter [to the average fan].
AllHipHop.com : What’s the most important thing
you learned about on the business end between albums?
RJD2: You can have a manager. You can not have
a manager. But the bottom line is: you have to at least care what’s going on.
The people that are really successful are the people that could manage themselves
but choose not to. I’m in the process of trying to find a manager that I can
work with but it’s just, I’ve done this s**t for so long, I have control issues
now. It’s a matter of finding a person that you can trust to make sure s**t
gets done ’cause if it doesn’t get done, it’s your ass.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel a need to try and
reinvent yourself with each future album?
RJD2: Definitely. I felt like I’ve played the
consistency game. After Dead Ringer came out, there was the Soul Position
record, the Diverse album, the Aceyalone record, all this s**t I did was basically
normal Rap music, where I was doing this simple Rap beat thing and it was fun
and cool, 95 beats per minute, chop your s**t up, whatever. F***in’ m#### music.
I like it, but it’s still m#### music. When it came down for this record, it’s
like, what’s the point of re-recording some other s**t? It would be cheap of
me. I couldn’t be honest. This record is as honest as I can be in terms of just
sitting down and saying "This is what I feel." If I had tried to do
another Dead Ringer, it would’ve just been a marketing gimmick to me.
It might have gotten better reviews but that’s not what it’s about. I understand
if people think, "Oh this s**t’s soft or corny." At the end of the
day, I don’t get bent out of shape about it. This is at least a representation
of the music that I like.