RJD2 on the Dehumanizing of Music, and Performing with Four Turntables
Performing with and producing for artists like EL-P, Aesop Rock, and Aceyalone, RJD2 has paved an unprecedented path for himself since the 2002 debut of his instrumental hip-hop album, Deadringer. He's shown his creativity in a variety of outlets, whether it be the soundtrack to a skate video, a brief graffiti career, or founding the sustainable record label RJ's Electrical Connections. Below, RJD2 -- born Ramble John Krohn -- chats with us about his opposition to conformity, the highs and lows of owning a label, and his favorite production tools. He plays this Friday at 103 Harriet with Zion I, Goldenchyld, and more.
Your sound has been categorized in so many different ways. Would asking you to describe it be banal?
That's my least favorite thing in the world to do! (laughs). It's somewhere in between electronic and pop ... Modern music? I don't know. I've never really been much of one for labels.
Your first album, Deadringer, was mostly comprised of instrumental hip-hop, while the current album, The Colossus, has shifted toward full-band sounds. Has there been backlash from long-time fans who want you to go back to your original sounds?
I don't ever feel a need conform to what people expect of me. It's not a factor for me or something I think about. I've accepted the fact that I'm just going to do what I want to do when it comes to making the records. People are going to come and go, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. My favorite bands from 5-15 years ago aren't the same. I don't feel like any of my favorite artists owe me anything. I think they should just make the records they want to make. As a fan, I'll either like it or I won't. That's part of the reason why I don't pay too much mind to expectations.
Now that you put out music on your own label, would you say there is more stress but less pressure?
The pressures have just changed. I feel more pressure to really get the campaigns right. I have to do everything I can to make a record successful. I feel more pressure to make sure whoever is working publicity on a record really gets the proper perspective, and make sure a radio team is in place. I feel a decreased level of stress from the feeling I used to feel when I put records out from a label. I'd be in a situation where I wasn't sure the label was going to accept the album or creative hurdles. But for the first time in my life, I am confident and comfortable that I can make a record exactly how I want to, and release it as I want it to be.
Since you do everything recording-wise by yourself, playing all the instruments and producing, is it hard to step out of the zone and get new perspectives when you are your own feedback?
I do a fair amount of sending things to colleagues or friends and asking for their take. But yes, it's true, when I make these recordings in these hermitically sealed environments, it can be hard to have an objective perspective. I look back on things in my catalog and the stuff I am the most proud of is not the stuff people have always gravitated toward the most. Taste is subjective, like the song I think is a 7/10, a fan might think is a a 10/10, and vice versa. I do try to navigate it well, but at the same time I still have to roll out a record I'm proud of.
Your most recent release was The Glow Remixes EP, off The Colossus album. Why did you choose that song versus a bigger single like "Games You Can Win?"
It was kind of a timing thing. With "Games You Can Win" featuring Kenna, I was able to get one remix out of this guy Nikolai, which was great. Nikolai was one of the few guys that could actually pull it off, because the chord structure behind that song was very weird. Your average remixer would probably have a difficult time doing it. The verse has two chord changes in it, and the second change modulates up a half step. If you were to just do a beat and loop it, there was going to be a point at the verse where the melodies were going to clash and weren't going to sit right after the same loop. The remixer would have to adapt to that part. So I decided to look for a song we could get multiple remixes for. "The Glow" stood out because it was one of the songs where the melodies aren't super exploratory in where they go. You could do a more primitive remix and still have all the notes and melodies work over the chords. That's why the song lends itself to remixing much easier to anything on the records.