RJD2 transforms but stays true to his mix-mastering roots, appears at the Paradise on Saturday.
The first two studio albums from beat maker and innovative sampling wizard RJD2 featured the tightest instrumental landscape since the days of DJ Shadow and late-era Moby. From 2002 through 2005, no one could match RJ’s skills.
But to RJD2, born Ramble John Krohn in 1976, his mastery went way beyond the work he did sitting on a stool behind a giant mixing board. He knew how to play instruments, and he even tried his vocals on “Making Days Longer” from his second disc on the Definitive Jux label, 2004’s, "Since We Last Spoke."
But RJ later parted ways with Def Jux, a label known for breeding some of the most mind-blowing underground hip-hop (Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, Mr. Lif). He wouldn’t get into the details of his split with Def Jux, but what RJ did talk about was his first disc with XL Recordings, an album filled with RJ’s vocals and original compositions. He played every instrument and recorded the entire record at his home studio.
RJ went from a Superman underground beat maker to a Clark Kent indie rock newbie. This transformation shocked some of his longtime fans, but introduced another element to his multi-faceted musician on "The Third Hand."
“I knew the record was going to piss people off, to be honest,” RJ said via cell phone last month on his way to a show in Portland, Ore. “But I felt it was really going to freak people out if it was on Def Jux. And I felt like it was just going to be such a harder sell for myself and for the label if it was going to be on Def Jux. I was just trying to make music that was exciting to me.”
The idea of losing longtime fans didn’t sit too well with RJ, but he wanted to make an album that challenged him and brought a new aspect to his element.
“Once I realized that it was going to freak some people out, yeah, it was a stressful thing, because I don’t like the prospect of somebody buying a record and not getting something they’re happy with,” RJ said. “But the other side of it, you can’t just make the same record over and over and make it good. If I had the capacity to make 10 Dead Ringers and make them all phenomenal, that could’ve been a realistic solution. I could do a lot of half-assed, bull**** watered-down versions … but that format is not new anymore.”
"The Third Hand" came out in May 2007, and RJ put a ton of time into making it. Instead of filing through crates of old records to find perfect samples, he came up with original material and did all the work himself.
“I’m better off making a record I can put my blood, sweat, and tears into, and it may not be something people particularly expect, but then I could’ve made something exactly what people expected, but it wouldn’t have had the blood, sweat, and tears aspect,” RJ said. “At the end of the day, it’s about songs that are interesting to me. You’re just trying to accomplish the same goal. For the show, it’s a huge change. I’ve still got the turntables as part of the show, but I got all this stuff on top of that. It’s a lot more demanding. There’s a lot more to learn and to prepare.”
RJ said preparing for his previous two albums pales in comparison to what he has to do before hitting the road with material from "The Third Hand."
“The preparation for the 'Dead Ringer' tour was a couple days. The preparation for the 'Since We Last Spoke' tour, it was maybe a couple months, maybe just a couple weeks of practicing,” RJ said. “This tour was just months and months of preparation because I had to learn how to play all the songs. It was a massive undertaking. Now we get to play new songs that are just with the band, and then I do some things that are totally by myself, the old style with the turntables. Like stuff from 'Dead Ringer,' parts are done on sampler and parts are played live. Then there’s a whole video visual.”
RJD2 brings what a friend described as “schizophrenic in as good a way possible” Saturday to the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.
“There’s a huge variety in the show, songs from all the records are presented in varying formats,” RJ said. “It’s fun.”
Ryan Wood is a freelance writer who has contributed to the Community Newspaper Company, Noize Makes Enemies, The Sun (London), The Weekly Dig, The Noise, and Earlash. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.