RJD2 interview

Just found a fresh RJD2 interview. He's a bit too decorative, a bit too pop, but still unique and catchy. Here, RJ talks on equipment, djing and DJ Shadow.

RJD2 is member of the Def Jux crew, a new New-York-based hip hop label that has taken the music world by storm with its brand of gritty, street-level hip hop, innovative beats, and peerless MCing. RJ, a Columbus, Ohio native previously acted as DJ for the Megahertz crew, the former flagship of Columbus’s growing hip hop scene. Now RJ works solo, producing sample-based instrumental hip hop which practically begs for comparison with DJ Shadow. However, RJ brings a distinct, innovative style to his music, injecting a vintage soul feel to his beats. The results are shimmeringly evocative beat-driven compositions, complex yet accessible.

I met up with RJD2 after a DJ set at Ohio State’s Springfest, an annual concert that showcases the latest underground music talent. This year, Def Jux has taken over the event, with label flagship Cannibal Ox headlining and RJD2 taking over the penultimate performance. During our brief meeting, I discussed RJ’s DJ set and his approach to producing.

RJ is slight, a stark contrast to Can Ox MC Vast Aire’s imposing frame. However, both share an openness to discussing their craft, and a loquacity of young men excited about their art. We first touch upon his DJ set, which was a mixture of vintage Stax 45s and his own original compositions. Many of the R&B joints in his set had been used as sample material for producers, including the RZA and Dr. Dre. RJ assures me this wasn’t intentional. “Actually, I usually try to avoid that. Some people make mixes out of just songs that people like Primo or Pete Rock have sampled, but the mixes aren’t even that good. I’m trying to avoid stepping on other’s coattails.” I point out his uncouth DJ set, which was bereft of recognizable hits, but still got the crowd moving. “What I’ve noticed is that if you play three rap tracks and drop a 45, it sounds like shit. But if you play three rap tracks and then drop five 45’s, it sounds good.” I point out how natural RJ’s selections sounded in a DJ performance context. “It’s really the natural lineage,” he points out. “It’s throwback to Afrika Bambataa days, where they actually played 45s. They wanted records no one else had. In keeping in that vein, it's like going to school. At first I tried getting stuff people sampled. Then I'd get stuff from that era. Sample fodder is the root motivation. I'm a producer at heart. DJing is fun, but i don't consider myself a DJ. I buy stuff for sampling, not really for DJing.”

We touch upon the frequent references to DJ Shadow. “I'm just trying to do my own shit. I get compared to Shadow a lot.” We briefly talk about Shadow’s latest album, The Private Press. I confess that the new album leaves me cold in parts. RJ offers the perspective of a man working in the same medium. “The thing about Shadow, is he's on some virtuoso shit. He's so technically proficient with a sampler, I can't not like it, even if I don't like it aesthetically. Technically, it's a fucking masterpiece.”

Although a veteran of underground hip hop, RJ’s affiliation with a mostly New York label is a bit puzzling. “I was shopping demos around. I didn't even get one call. They wouldn't even listen to it. Most of the time people would send the demo back without even listening to it, because they have no time for unsolicited stuff. My friend Copywrite [who raps on RJD2’s “June”] was going to New York and he wanted me to give him a demo so he could listen to it. I didn’t want to, because that’s one more demo I could send to a label. I ended up giving him a copy and he is friends with El [Producto, head of Def Jux], and El listened to it and told me he wanted to put out my album. It’s ironic that I was this close to not even giving him a copy.”

We then moved on to RJ’s highly anticipated debut album, which comes out in mid-July. Many tracks off of RJ’s several singles and other releases will appear. “[There are] three songs with rap, some songs with vocal samples. ‘June’ is on it. ‘Silver Fox.’ ‘The Proxy’ is on it. The B-side of ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ is on there too.”

After getting these concrete details out of the way, RJ delves into his goals as a musician. “Perspective-wise, I’m perpetually stuck in Stevie Wonder mode. Stevie Wonder to me is the epitome of good pop music and that's what i want to do with my life eventually. Everything up to Inner Visions. The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, that's what i hope to do someday: create good pop music.” I inquire as to the role his hip hop aesthetic plays in his plans. “My means to make music is hip hop, but I’m trying to grow past that,” he explains. “I'm going to be stuck using a sampler and jacking drums from old records until the day I die because that's what I love to do. But at the same time, there's so much more to it, I don't want to limit myself. There's always producers out there upping the ante and taking it to the next level and that's what I’m trying to do.”

RJD2’s soft-spoken humility does not obscure his passion for his music. He speaks quietly, but very clearly and rapidly. I’m reminded again of Vast Aire, who often seemed like he had almost too many thoughts going on in his head that he could barely articulate them all. We move on to the more technical aspects of RJ’s work. However, RJ’s interests aren’t really in referencing the model numbers of equipment. “I use an MP3-2000 XL. I'm not a tech-head and I try to stay out of that shit. I like to have minimal amounts of gear but I want know it inside and out. I want to be able to take it apart and put it back together.” Process is not the important part of RJ’s art. “I know too many rappers that didn't have the means to make shit, just a turntable and a tape recorder and a 16-second sampler and I've seen people make incredible beats just overdubbing tape. I don’t have time to keep buying equipment and learning how to use it. I have an album coming out next month and I want to have an album coming out next year.” Here’s hoping RJ’s outstanding output is as prolific as he desires.

by Gavin Mueller, stylusmagazine.com

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