Looking back a few short months ago, when I was arranging the pressing of the now-classic “Rain” / “Find You Out” 7-inch, I had an interesting conversation with RJD2. Upon hearing a few advance treats from his album, not to mention the tracks for the 45, I told him that I seriously thought that he was going to be the next DJ Shadow. He replied, “Really? I mean that’s cool, but you know, what I really want to do, is make records like Moby, but better.” Without going into great detail (for Moby’s sake), RJ explained to me that he liked Moby’s formula, but didn’t necessarily like his content, and wanted to make the same type of record, but with more substance. Dig?
Around that same time, little did RJ know, but HipHopSite’s own S-Boogie liked his records so much, that he was practically acting as his publicist, putting RJ’s music into the hands of a number of L.A.’s hipster deejays. A few hours after turning Z-Trip on to RJD2, the Arizona DJ was doubling-up on the “Here’s What’s Left” 12″ for a crowd of 10,000 at a Linkin Park concert in Vegas. The buzz continued to grow, and next thing you know, Urb Magazine is calling the “Rain” 45 one of the best records of 2001.
Now, I haven’t seen this kind of word-of-mouth buzz on an artist since Eminem, and at HipHopSite, nobody listens to techno. So I’m not sure how RJ’s album compares to the new Moby record, or any Moby record for that matter, but I think I know a good record when I hear it, and RJD2′s Dead Ringer is damn-near-if-not classic. It gets the kind of response from people hear the record, they say with confidence, “Yo, this is reeeeeally dope.” The decision is unanimous - everyone agrees.
Signed as the only instrumental artist on El-P’s Definitive Jux imprint, he may also be the first artist to break the mold of what the label’s “supposed” to sound like. So forget everything you think you know about Def Jux, because if you weren’t feeling the Masai Bey 12″ or the first Mr. Lif EP, RJD2′s Dead Ringer will make you re-examine the label’s catalog as a whole.
From the moment the album begins, with “The Horror”, an almost secret-agent-theme that meets at the crossroads of Dr. Dre’s “Natural Born Killaz” and the Scooby Doo theme-song, the listener is immediately hooked. It’s evident right from the get-go that RJ has taken the art of sampling to a whole new level; in essence he’s taken what DJ Shadow perfected with Endtroducing, and improved upon it. As a matter of fact, Shadow’s influence lingers in the background of tracks like the incredibly soulful “Smoke & Mirrors” and the drum-crazy “The Chicken-Bone Circuit” (get down on that MPC, RJ - got damn!).
But RJ isn’t simply a DJ Shadow clone, as again, he has reinvented the art of sampling as a whole with Dead Ringer, and without a doubt has his own signature sound. His instrumentals don’t repeat themselves every 16 bars, they’re unpredictable, traveling in directions you’d never expect. The raucous horns of “Ghostwriter” sneak up and attack the otherwise mellow head-nodder, with a break down that warns you they are coming – and despite it, you still ain’t ready. Even more impressive is the album’s secret track, they already cult-classic “Here’s What’s Left”, which mixes a barrage of heavy samples, sonic sound bytes, and beautifully lonely lyrics, creating a masterpiece that could easily work as part of the soundtrack to any blockbuster tearjerker. Similar emotion is evoked on “June”, as RJ redefines the structure of the standard hip-hop song, as Copywrite delivers two excellent book-end verses, with the meat lying in a speechless two-minutes of RJ’s instrumental. Another great moment is “Final Frontier”, an awesome duet with Blueprint, which whets the appetite for their forthcoming collaborative project, The Soul Position.
There’s plenty more on RJD2′s Dead Ringer, and there is so much undeniable heat on this record, that it’s almost perfect. One minor fault is right after you’ve been seduced by the mood of “Smoke and Mirrors”, you are then jolted like an obnoxious alarm clock at an ungodly hour, by the otherwise likable “Good Times Roll Pt. 2″. And while there are some incredible cuts on this album, it seems like it could have been sewn together a little more seamlessly than it is, to create a more cohesive feel. Meanwhile, Jakki Tha MotaMouth’s “F.H.H.” definitely brings up a lot of valid points about why hip-hop sucks in 2002, but we’ve seen better moments from RJ and Jakki, both together and separately (see Copywrite’s “Nobody”). And of course, there are always the one or two cuts that aren’t quite up to par with some of the instant classics. Everyone will choose their own sour apple, but it’s also possible that we’re the ones being spoiled. All nitpicking aside, this album will make RJD2 a hip-hop household name, and further strengthens the MHz (MegaHertz) collective, just as Copywrite’s The High Exhaulted did one month ago.
An end note; recently, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Roots’ drummer, ?uestlove, for a day during his trip to Las Vegas. Upon playing him RJ’s album, coincidentally he said to me, “Wow. This is like what Moby’s album should sound like.” Congratulations RJ, you’ve achieved your goal.
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