25 May, 2004@12:00 am
HHS: First question, what are the meanings behind both album titles (Dead Ringer) and (Since We Last Spoke)?
RJ: Dead Ringer the idea was a phrase that I heard people saying “oh he’s a dead ringer for so and so”, you know what I mean? I guess the irony of it, was that I did this record that was an argument for instrumental hip-hop, for people that just bought rap music. I was kind of trying to do my own thing, and the irony of calling it “Dead Ringer” was like an intentional oxymoron that only I would get, probably. (Laughs) It was just a title that I liked the way it sounded, but it also kind of happened to have a meaning for myself. The eventual irony of it was that nobody saw that record as it’s own thing, and it was inevitably compared to other records.
Since We Last Spoke? I went through all these titles that were basically jokes, things that I thought were really funny. And the label was like “Well…..I don’t know if you should call it that…. I don’t know about that…. I don’t think people will get that.” The day before I had to make a choice for the layout of it, that was it. It was the only title that I had that was even remotely serious. Everything else was completely tongue-in-cheek in some form of an inside joke…. I mean the title I originally wanted to go with was I Need More Money and Power And Less Shit From You People, but the label thought that people were going to take it very seriously.
HHS: The way I interpreted the title was kind of like – and tell me if I am right or wrong on this – but it made me think of “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands”, because this was an instrumental record, not one where you have actually “spoke” on…..
RJ: Ooooh yeah…..I could definitely see who you could interpret it that way, and I’m glad that you saw something else in it. I mean, the reason behind it was like “this is kind of different than the last time I put out a solo record.”
HHS: Okay…. people are also trying to figure out the meaning behind the album cover. Do you want to break down the method to the madness?
RJ: There was this 60′s country rock record that I had, the cover was real psychedelic, and I just liked it, and the composition was similar. I kind of had an idea of, just in terms of an icon being in the lower right hand quadrant of the album, and the font being in the top-left, and that was all that was on the cover. I’m real into very minimalist design, it always appeals to me. So, I kind of wanted to copy the composition to this record, but not do the same thing, you know what I mean? Using the record wear thing, I mean I know people have done – T-Love sort of did it – but I was like “well….”. I wanted to do it to give the feeling of a sort of old record that was slightly familiar, or whatever. The icon, I kind of described the vibe that I wanted to this woman Kiku, who did it, I was constantly calling her and being really annoying like “I want it like this, and maybe like this….no, no that’s not right, maybe like this.” I wanted something that was organic but still felt kind of modern, that could be sort of cut-and-pasty to kind of fit with the approach to some of the songs on the record. Not so overtly, (because) I didn’t want it to be a gimmick, I wanted it to have an aesthetic to it at the same time.
HHS: You said the object on the cover was a fruit right?
RJ: Yeah some Brazilian or Japanese fruit, I don’t know…..
HHS: And have you ever eaten this fruit?
RJ: No! I’ve never even seen the damn fruit, in person.
HHS: Obviously you have taken your music in another direction with SWLS, I mean I don’t think it’s a drastic change, but how would you explain the difference between the two albums?
RJ: For me the main difference is that it doesn’t have rappers on it….. The second main difference being….. Well there are songs on the record that….. Well, on Dead Ringer, it was always in my mind to keep it closely related to hip-hop, you know what I mean? I wasn’t trying to go out so far to left field that people were like “what kind of music is this, it doesn’t make sense”. But this record I didn’t give a shit. There are songs on there, track number 11, the real fast rocky song, that was sort of like an art project. I put it on the record feeling like “well, this is something that I worked a long time on and I’m proud of it, but at the same time I think that it was kind of an intentional. The intent was not “let’s see if we can make this fit in”, but like “well, if you don’t like this, at least you’ll find it interesting”.
HHS: Well, I did find it interesting, but I didn’t like it though (laughs).
RJ: Okay, yeah, that’s fine.
HHS: I’m just being straight up, but I actually really liked the piano breakdowns and stuff. It reminded me of The Outfield and Rick Springfield, you know?
RJ: Yeah it was supposed to have that kind of Cars-y feel, you know? If you are a fan of early 80′s rock, then maybe you’ll like it, you know? That was one of those songs that like, your average Def Jux fan is probably not a fan of Madness and The Cars, to really get into this song.
HHS: Okay yeah, so this was basically like your tribute to 80′s rock, am I right?
RJ: Well…. yeah. Or my attempt at making a song like that, but just using a sampler.
HHS: Okay so, like, I mean, I thought it sounded like you sampled “Jesse’s Girl” in there…..
RJ: No! No-no-no-no, I’m not that crazy…..
HHS: Okay, I didn’t think so, but with that being said are there any plainly obvious samples on the record, that you cleverly disguised so well that no one would ever know?
RJ: No, no….. there is something that I would like to think is cleverly disguised that’s floating out there, but not on this record. Well….there is a very small handful of things that I think somebody might have stumbled upon, but not something like “Jesse’s Girl”, not shit that’s on a major label, if that will give you any hint. I will say that there is something floating around out there that I’ve done within the last six months, that is a really terribly obvious sample, but I’d like to think it’s done in a way where nobody’s going to catch it.
HHS: It’s something out there that’s released?
RJ: Yeah, yeah, it’s out there, it’s released.
HHS: Alright…. this is going to make the message board go crazy, like “What is it?!?!?”
RJ: (Laughs) I wouldn’t even tell anyone if they guessed it, so that won’t help, but it’s obvious in a sense that it’s a record that I thought to myself that I would ever sample.
HHS: Okay, so being that with this record you decided to think outside the box, did you accomplish what you wanted? Are you happy with the way it turned out?
RJ: Yeah, I’m happy with this record. I feel that this record is more accomplished with what I’ve done. Every time I finish a record I feel like, at the end of the day, I could sit down and top it. By the time the record is out, I think I could do a little bit better. But there are elements to this record that I don’t know if I will ever be able to touch, you know? Not technical things, just emotive….
HHS: Well what do you think is the crowning achievement of this record? What are your favorite songs?
RJ: I’m happy that that song “Making Days Longer” just seems to get people in a tissy, people either love it or hate it. I really like track number 4, “Ring Finger”. It’s just a good example of what I was trying to do on the record, in terms of having songs (that are) nice and tight and short, and well constructed from beginning to end.
HHS: You told me a while back that you never want to use a sample that someone else used you know? And “Ring Finger” has that same sample Alchemist used for an Twin Gambino track?
RJ: Yes…. I found out after I did that song, but the thing is, is that’s not actually a sample. That’s one of the few things that people will dig up, and for the beat-digger nerd, they should actually dig up the original record and listen to it back-to-back. That’s actually replayed. Really sit down and listen to the Infamous Mobb record and “A-B” back and forth between the Infamous Mobb record and that song, and you should be able to tell the difference.
HHS: Okay so you’ve got vocals on this record, but where is it sampled and where is live, and who is actually singing on these songs?
RJ: There are only two vocalists on the record, my girlfriend and myself.
HHS: And where are each of you singing?
RJ: She does the vocals on track four, and I am on track one – the just sort of “oohs” and “ahhs”, the vocoder on the second track, track five, and eleven.
HHS: Oh, so you sung on “Making Days Longer” yourself?
HHS: That’s awesome dude.
RJ: Thank you. That, and the fast rocky song.
HHS: What technical equipment did you use to create “Since We Last Spoke”?
RJ: I used some keyboards, guitars, some bass, a sampler, and Pro-Tools.
HHS: What made you decide to make this kind of music? At one point in your life did you wake up and say “Okay, I want to do instrumental hip-hop, and this is exactly how I want to do it”.
RJ: The first thing I remember doing that with was actually the MPC. When I first got the machine and took it home, this was pre-Fondle ‘Em, the MHz days, 97-98, around then…. I remember taking the machine home and thinking “Wow there is so much capacity to this machine and so much that people aren’t using…..”. When I first started making beats, I’d just take a drum loop and a loop from some jazz record or some shit, and you are using up two sounds, and the machine holds 64 sounds, you got “Shit, why aren’t using this stuff? Why aren’t people sitting down and taking a month to do one song, instead of just doing these little loop songs, you know? I mean, that time, people were just starting to do that, I mean Premier was chopping his shit up then, people were doing it, but nowhere near the capacity….. So I started messing around with that, trying to challenge myself to do things that were intricate. They weren’t good, they weren’t working, and I would pitch them to the guys in MHz, but they weren’t into it. Through that process I realized that making it intricate doesn’t necessarily make it any better or good. And I’m glad I was part of a group where those guys weren’t really interested in that kind of thing at the time, so it made me practice doing the two-bar loop approach beats, but doing it well. But if it weren’t for them, I probably would have abandoned that, but at the same time I was messing around with these little intricate things on the side, just for fun. Once that kind of grew into a point where I felt that I had songs that could kind of stand on their own, with the vocal samples or whatever….. “Here’s What’s Left” being one of the first songs that I did, and it had a vocal sample in it, and I felt it could kind of stand on it’s own, in terms of just, there wasn’t any room for rhymes. I mean you could cram something in, but I felt it doesn’t really need it, you know?
HHS: So how did this land in the hands of Def Jux, and all of a sudden its “RJD2 solo album”?
RJ: Well right when Bob quit doing Fondle Em, El had just started doing Def Jux. It was right about the time that Mr. Lif’s first EP came out, but Def Jux didn’t really have much of a name, it was right when El was getting his distribution deal with Caroline for Def Jux. What happened is, I was sending out demos to a bunch of people, and I wasn’t getting any calls back. I couldn’t even get anyone on the phone. I gave a demo to Copywrite, he was going to New York and just wanted to listen to it and I was like “I can’t really give it to you, I need to send it, I need to get this deal”. He was like “I will get it to Bob, I will get him to play ‘June’ on the air”. Well, he took it, and he never got it played on the radio, but he took it to El, and El was interested in that. There were a few other things on that demo – “Ghostwriter” was on that demo – and that’s when El called me and was like “maybe we’ll do a single, and then it was like maybe we’ll do an EP”, and I kept working and it ended up blossoming into a full-length album.
HHS: Being that you are bringing up Copywrite and everything, what is the status of MHz right now? Is everyone going in their own direction?
RJ: Yeah…. I mean, we are all still cool. Camu is doing his thing, he’s got S.A. Smash now….. Once we all started doing solo records, that became more of a priority. We are all still cool, I mean one of the songs I did for the album, I mean I got Cage to do a song, and it came out great, I’m really happy with it, but I kind of wanted to do this record without the token rap song.
HHS: I gotta say, in retrospect, that when you guys put those first 12inches out, I didn’t like them. I was like “this is okay”, you know what I mean, but it didn’t grab me. Then I heard your solo records, then I heard Copywrite’s solo records, and then you got Camu who is vastly underrated on the beats, plus Jakki who murders it on the mic….. I’m just going, “this crew is sooo dope”, and I totally slept on this way back when, but I can’t believe how many so many dope people came together for this short lived crew, you know? I’m rooting for the reunion album…..
RJ: (Laughs) Aw man, I hate to tell you, it’s not anything I’d feel comfortable being a part of. I just don’t like the whole “reunion” thing, I feel like it’s lacking in pride, I feel like it’s a marketing thing. Just come up with a new name, you know? It’s like, “oh you know, we’ll sell more records if we sell it as Organized Konfusion, than if we make up a new name if we do it with O.C.” What’s the point, you know what I mean? I think my pride is getting the best of me but….. I mean, I’m definitely going to be a part of Copywrite’s project, and vise versa. We’re still all cool…..
HHS: Okay, so there’s another rumor that you had a secret, punk rock past. A sordid, secret punk rock past…..
RJ: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say punk rock, I was never that big into punk rock.
HHS: Okay, so where are these rumors coming from…..
RJ: Ahhh, I don’t know man, you have to ask the rumor birdy…… I mean I played in bands when I was younger and stuff, we played shit like King Crimson. I was in this group that like fake-art-prog-rock…..
HHS: Way back when?
RJ: Yeah, we sucked.
HHS: That’s all right, everyone sucks in the beginning.
RJ: It was like imitation King Crimson.
HHS: So is there material that’s one day going to float on Ebay like “Oh shit, RJD2′s first band!!”
RJ: If there is, I’m going to be strangling. Actually I have a stronghold on that market because I have all the seven-inch singles in my basement.
HHS: Tell me your influences as far as producers in hip-hop and across the board, and then tell me your influences as far as regular vocalists and bands, etc.
RJ: Producers would be…. Prince Paul, Marley Marl, Ski, Jazzy Jeff, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, El-P, Shadow, Just Blaze, Timbaland, Rich Harrison, DJ Quik, MF Doom, Dre of course? Where do you stop? Basically anyone who contributed their own little niche…. The Zombies, Nick Drake, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Mars Volta, Queens Of The Stone Age, Elliot Smith, Prince, The Impressions. The list goes on……
HHS: Going back to hip-hop producers, did you ever hear a track and be like “Fuck! I wish I made that beat?”
RJ: Aaliyah “Try Again” – arguably my favorite beat of all time.
HHS: Who are your dream artists to work with?
RJ: Right now probably Ludacris, Nas, Cedric from Mars Volta, Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
HHS: You’ve got some love ballads on there? Who or what inspires your music?
RJ: I got a good woman, so…..
HHS: A good woman is definitely integral to the process.
HHS: Would you say that there are more or less sampled songs than on “Dead Ringer” on “Since We Last Spoke”
RJ: Yes. Oh, I mean….less! It might be the same…. I feel each of the individual songs is denser, but a good 30% of this record is instrumentation. Things that I replayed or sampled, not 99% sampled like “Dead Ringer” was.
HHS: Okay so, when you were constructing a record for Dead Ringer versus constructing a record for this album, how many sources would you say you use per song?
RJ: God….On the whole, there were a few songs that were more minimal on Dead Ringer than this record, I’d say on this record each song involves at least ten to fifteen sources, and then something else. This record has a lot of synth solos and guitar solos. Any of the solo things were all sampled, they weren’t replayed. The rhythm pieces and the main portions were the things that ended up being replayed.
HHS: You’ve got RZA scoring flicks like Ghost Dog and Kill Bill… Have you been approached to do something like this, or could you see yourself doing this kind of thing? If so, which filmmaker would you like to do it with?
RJ: Yeah, I’d love to, I’d never been approached for it, but I’d love to.
HHS: Who would be the dream director to work with?
RJ: Maybe Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, maybe if it was a good David Lynch film.
HHS: You got some good taste in film there, RJ.
RJ: Why thank you sir.
HHS: Because many of your songs are instrumental based, how do you title each track? Are there any good stories behind the titles?
RJ: The most interesting one I can think of is on the song “Silver Fox”. It came from when I was going on record shopping trips a lot of the time, and I would end up in neighborhoods where there were record stores, and sometimes they’d be in seedy areas of town. And I started noticing that a lot of strip clubs in America are named “The Silver Fox”, and there is a 45 label called “Silver Fox”, so I would be on these trips going to these stores finding 45′s on Silver Fox. It was one of these little personal coincidences.
HHS: So you got a little bit of negative press on this album? Why do you think that is and how do you respond to it?
RJ: Oh, I don’t know, I guess I was kind of asking for it. I didn’t do the dummy approach to instrumental hip-hop albums this time, I think there are some things that are actually challenging on this record. I went into it knowing that there are some songs on this record that your average Def Jux fan are going to get up in arms about, you know. I don’t know, whatever, tomorrow morning Soundscan numbers are coming in, so if my numbers look good, I could give a shit and the rest of the world could eat my ass.
HHS: I got you some good numbers man. Over 700 sold on the site to date man!
RJ: Damn!! Thank you, thank you sir! That’s fresh….
HHS: Being that your first album was very funk and soul influenced, and the new one is more rock influenced, what direction will you take your music in next?
RJ: I don’t know, I mean I don’t want to be a vulture, I’m not trying to have any kind of slash and burn approach to musical genres or anything. I don’t want to be the Beck of instrumental hip-hop. Hopefully nobody takes anything as insincere because it’s not. I didn’t sit down with this record like it’s a conscious thing, “okay I’m going to make a rock record – that’s the gimmick”. Just like the first record, I’m just trying to make good shit, so I don’t know, I can’t really tell you, you know what I mean? I will say that I am intrigued with the idea of being a “real musician”, so it’s definitely something I want to practice. Whether or not I want to use it I have no idea, I could just spend the rest of my career doing sample based music – just doing beats for rappers – because that’s a blast, that’s fun, I love that. I gotta keep myself entertained and right now, playing real music and trying to teach myself to be a real musician is really intriguing.
HHS: Will you do another hip-hop record like Soul Position?
RJ: Oh yeah of course. Definitely. The weird thing for me about this record is that people act like I have abandoned everything that I have done with the past three years or whatever, and I feel like if you add up all the shit that I have done, the normal rap music shit outweighs the wierdo instrumental shit 5-to-1.
HHS: Well yeah, and I think a lot of times people believe that if they hear one thing that they don’t like that they have to throw the whole damn thing out. I don’t think that you went in a terribly different direction – so you did “Through The Walls” and “Making Days Longer”, which are different than what you did before, however “Ring Finger” is right there with anything on “Dead Ringer”, so I can’t be mad at this record at all.
RJ: Thanks man.
HHS: So, someone could easily come up to you and say, you are not a musician because you sample. How would you respond to this, and I’m sure that you’ve had it happen before, so how would you explain sampling as an artform?
RJ: Honestly I have never had anyone call me “not a muscian”.
HHS: Okay well I’m sorry for asking that question (laughs).
RJ: Yeah, I mean people ask me that question, “what do you think about people – these anonymous ghost people?” You know what I don’t care, I’m not trying to label myself as a musician, I’m more of a non-musician. People can get mad about that, you know El got on my case once in Europe when somebody brought this up in an interview and I was like “You know what, I don’t care, I’m not a fucking musician” and he’s like “you are a musician”. I’m like “No, I’m not a musician, but I make better records than 90 percent of the musicians out right now” (laughs)….. Put me in a room with a musician and odds are I can make a better sounding record than they can by themselves.
HHS: What else do you got in the works, where do you go from here?
RJ: Right now its just touring, I’m trying to get the live show real tight, and focus on pushing this record. That’s all that’s up for this year, I’m trying to do this right, not spread myself too thin.
HHS: Do you have your eyes on other projects right now?
RJ: There’s things I have my eyes on, but my main focus right now is pushing this record as much as I can.
HHS: Aight last question – Best Rap Album ever, what is it?
RJ: You know what? I’d probably say Special Ed “Youngest In Charge”…..
HHS: WRONG! Just kidding, actually that’s the first tape I ever bought…..
RJ: Seriously? Yeah man, I think Special Ed is the most undeserved and influential emcee. I mean people talk about KRS and Rakim as the forefathers of modern day school of rap, but honestly I feel Special Ed has birthed so many. He is like the unrecognized forefather – I feel like there wouldn’t be an Eminem or an MF Doom – there wouldn’t be a lot of rappers if it wasn’t for Special Ed.
HHS: I was around 6th grade when that came out, and number one, the video sold me, when he had the hovercraft and shit, but what really got me was that he had rhymes within rhymes – like “Sucka emcees / please think twice / would you join the navy if you didn’t like the gravy and rice?”
RJ: Oh yeah, he was like the first guy doing compound rhymes. I remember there were rumors that “Taxin” was a freestyle…. I mean just in terms of style, I feel like nobody from that era….. I mean Kane had the arrogance, but Special Ed had the shit that was witty and funny…. and he has to have, by far, the most slept on sophomore album of all time. Easily.
HHS: I don’t even have a copy of that anymore.
RJ: I found a copy of it on vinyl at a flea market for $1…..
HHS: Oh my god I am so jealous.
RJ: Yeah I got that, and Stet’s second album for $1 and they still had the shrinkwrap on.
HHS: Awwww! You are the record king.
RJ: Nah you are the king, you hit me with the second copy of that Aaliyah single!!
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