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RJD2 coming to you

By Max Calenberg

RJD2? Huh? ‘Nah, I never really liked Star Wars.’ ‘Ohhh, oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of them, they had that song on that T.V. commercial, with the humming and the horns, right?’

RJD2 – Contributed

Turntablists/Producers and their albums are a branch of hip-hop not often climbed by the casual listener. Outputs range from DJ Kahled’s often obnoxious gangsta rap posse cuts to Madlib’s subtly beautiful beats that fuses early black music with its most popular current form. On this broad hip hop spectrum Kanye West resides in the middle, Kahled is off on a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean. while RJD2, real name Ramble John Krohn, belongs next to Madlib and Just Blaze. So yes, he is a bit obscure if you don’t catch much hip-hop but his appeal is entirely obvious once you listen.

RJD2’s debut album, “Deadringer,” came out in 2002 on the now defunct Definitive Jux Records. That album features some of his most notable work, with the paranoid “The Horror,” a track featuring so many menacing sounds its title is redundant. Then, there is the one song everyone’s heard. “Ghostwriter,” features one of the best compositional build-ups the last decade via a plucked guitar that explodes into the triumphant horned chorus Sufjan Stevens dreamt of when he slept in that parking lot on his van ride to Chicago, but couldn’t quite get right. Couple this with ending track “Work,” which is so soulful and blues rooted it makes the original Alvin Robinson song sound perky, and you start to realize what RJD2 is so good at. He expresses emotion brilliantly and wordlessly.

Well, he did in his first and second albums. His next two: “Since We Last Spoke” (2004) and “The Third Hand” (2007) were both albums with a noticeably straighter pop aspiration on which Krohn played live instruments and sang. This vocal move proved a far less effective method for his artistic expression. Though Krohn is not a particularly bad musician or singer, the material on “The Third Hand” probably wouldn’t have gotten him signed.

Most recently, the Philadelphia based artist dropped “The Colossus,” a mixture of his two distinct styles and in some ways a return to his earlier form. It is also the first album being released under his own newly created label, RJ’s Electrical Connections, a process RJ has found to be rewarding overall.

“I had relatively low expectations, but things have been phenomenal. It’s a lot harder, it’s a lot more work,” Krohn said. “Though I definitely feel it stream lined the process.”
One clear benefit of Krohn’s expansion of sounds are the new aspects it adds to his live show.

“I have so much more fun with this show than I do on my own. A big part of that is the variety…I get to play a couple different instruments and I’m not stuck on the turntables…there’s more of an ‘X’ factor to do it,” Krohn said. “It’s very hard to get into an improvisational mindset if I’m just out there by myself DJing.”

When RJD2 takes the stage this Friday in Harris many people may be hearing him for the first time and in a show which features his full range. The audience will see a master of vocals samples, a supreme user of horns and an artist who may be playing a song or two more for himself than for the listener. Plus, it sounds like they may even have a few surprises for us.

“I want people to come because this show is unique, it’s special,” Krohn said. “You’re not going to see this particular show again.”

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