Instrumentalist RJD2 has had a great half-a-decade. His two solo albums for Definitive Jux ï¿½ Dead Ringer and Since We Last Spoke ï¿½ not only represent two of the label’s most successful and solid releases, but also have been a licensing treasure trove for the producer. Not to mention producing a handful of hip-hop albums for artists like Blueprint and Aceyalone, RJ has definitely made his mark. So where does he go from here?
As hinted on Since We Last Spoke, RJ has transformed into full fledged performance artist with The Third Hand ï¿½ his third official solo outing, and first for XL Recordings. There is a natural evolution found on each of his three releases ï¿½ and The Third Hand is more in the vein of songs like crowd-pleaser “Making Days Longer” than cash-cow “Ghost Writer”. But to put it simply, the main difference between this LP and his others, is that RJ is singing on the virtually the entire album.
The album begins with the catchy, piano driven “You Never Had It So Good”, where RJ gives you full regalia, and an idea of what the rest of the LP will sound like. Unfortunately, you either are a fan of RJ’s vocal chops or you aren’t, which is going to determine whether you love or hate the record. A producer first, and a singer second, RJ records his vocals in different octaves, then layers them on top of one another, creating an almost “barbershop quartet” sound (but not really). This unfortunately, at times, leads to a redundant style, making songs like “Reality” and “Work It Out” sound indistinguishable. Another problem with his new approach is that many times its unclear exactly what he is singing about, with the lyrics feeling like they are almost forced to unnecessarily fill in the gaps of his instrumentals.
Say what you want about RJ’s vox, but his beats are still dope. While he might not be utilizing the costly art of sampling so much this time around, he’s still got his signature style that shines throughout the LP, singing or not. With an instrumental version of the album on the way ï¿½ and the fact that these songs will stand alone just fine as instrumentals – many longtime fans might just choose that version over this one, to get what they expect out of an RJD2 LP. But hopefully next time around he will take things back to basics.
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