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The instrumental genius that is RJD2 lets us in on his secrets.
words Rob Waite / photography Ben MistakRJD2: Ghostwriter
RJD2, born Ramble Krahn, produced neck-breaking hip-hop for Ohio trio Mhz before launching a solo career as a a genre-defying instrumentalist with his defining album Deadringer from 2002.
Since then, RJD2 has been keeping busy, releasing four albums and a series of instrumentals releases among other projects. Last January, he put out The Colossus, the first release on RJ’s own imprint Electrical Connections. Beatnik spoke to the beat collagist about his technical development as a producer, touring experiences and what’s been inspiring him of late.
Dead Ringer seems to be your iconic album. Do you find people constantly comparing your music back to this?
It comes up a lot, but I don’t feel like its this monkey on my back I can’t avoid or anything. They might more than I’m aware of; I don’t spend all day reading reviews or message boards or something, so you would probably be more informed on this than I.
Does being compared to straight trip-hop or DJ Shadow annoy you?
No, it makes sense. While so much of what I’ve done to date doesn’t fall under that term, its not like I don’t know why someone would use that term. I don’t really care too much about what people say about me.
How would you say your style has progressed / developed over the years?
I’d say that it’s gotten richer and more dynamic. I think I have a much broader palette of sounds in my music now. I don’t know if I’d say that as a composer I’ve gotten better, because that’s relative, but I will say I’ve gotten more adept, more precise, more versatile.
What song/album are you most proud of?
Probably The Colossus. It touches on more types of writing processes and textures than any album I’ve done. Personally, I consider it my biggest feat to date.
What is your starting point?
Depends on the goal. Mostly I start at the sampler, mapping out a groove. Sometimes I’ll take it to where it needs entirely inside the machine. Other times, I’ll start adding live parts, and then end up entirely moving it out of the sample-based realm. Where the song is going usually dictates those things.
A loop? A melody in your head?
Often times, yes. Not a melody in my head out of thin air, though. I’m not good working in a vacuum; I don’t wake up with ideas. More [than that], I need some little spark, so I’ll basically screw around until something happens that I can react[it.] to, and then, its off to the races.
What instruments do you play?
Sampler, keys, guitar, bass and drums — in that order in terms of fluency. I’m getting better at drums, though; I’ve been practicing a lot this year.
What scenes/labels/artists have inspired you recently?
Hmmm. While im not crazy about all of it, the really savage dubstep stuff is really interesting, as far as the effectiveness and mechanics of it. There’s been a lot of production on Rick Ross, Drake, Big Boi and Black Milk’s albums that I find inspiring. Melodic, but still driving.
What emphasis do you put on the live show?
I try to make it as involved and complex as I can. It’s tough when you’re working with just yourself, so I really try to make sure the visuals are on point, and that I’m well rehearsed. In my own little way, I try to do a DJ- or electronic-based show that is as close to a “performance” as I can get it.
How do you feel about live hip-hop in general?
It’s tough to pull off. There are people who can do it with a band, some who can do it on their charisma alone; it all depends. But it’s hard to do right, and very easy to do poorly.
How are you different?
Well I hope that I have a good grasp on it, but who knows? I know that my show is probably the only one with 4 turntables, 1 or 2 samplers, visuals, hand puppets, and real records — but the bottom line is whether or not people have fun.
Do you enjoy touring? What have been some of the best/worst experiences?
I do and I don’t, depends on which day you ask me! Best: when a crowd goes totally nuts for something you didn’t expect, and corny as it may sound, the “vibe” is there.
Worst: travel nightmares — getting stranded in a small town airport, having your vehicle break down, almost missing a show, having personnel problems. That stuff can really suck.
What do you have in store for us over the next 12 months?
Im trying to record a lot right now. Ive got two albums coming out next year for sure: The Insane Warrior, and Icebird, which are both going to be on my label. Hopefully I’ll have another solo album done by the end of next year!
Album: The Colossus (Out now — buy here)