Feature ·

For fans of hip-hop deejays, Rjd2's latest is dead on

Rjd2: No Sound Barrier

After lugging his deejay equipment all around Ohio for three years, RJD2 signed on with Brooklyn's Definitive Jux Records and is being hailed as the next big thing in hip-hop instrumentals. El-P, legendary underground hip-hop emcee and deejay, founder of the Def Jux label and main thrust behind one of the most powerful hip-hop crews in the game today, dropped a note to RJD2 in the liner notes of a recent Def Jux release. "When you're a millionare don't forget us," he wrote. Rjd2's record, "Deadringer," slid into record stores amidst a heavy industry buzz and hit the airwaves with instant critical acclaim. He is hoping to catch Ludacris' twenty-inch eyes to do some production work for him or even bump into Freeway on his way to South Street. Meanwhile, catch him on tour, either solo or with his group, Soul Position, this winter at a venue near you. Give him a pound if you see him. Just think twice about mentioning that Shadow reference you've so keenly come up with...

 

[more:]
Prefix Magazine:
How'd you start deejaying?

RJD2 :
I never really wanted to be a deejay. What really happened was a good friend of mine, the guy who actually ended up giving [me] my name, was selling his turntables. I always bought and collected records. I never had aspirations to be a deejay or anything. He was selling his turntables and I was just like, "Fuck it, whatever." It was ridiculous-he was selling two 1200s and a mixer and three crates of records for like $300.

PM:
You got the deal of the century.

RJD2 :

Exactly. And he had all these 12" in there, like the original Main Source "Just Hanging Out." And a lot of old 12" I didn't have 'cause I never bought singles when I was a kid. I would just buy albums. So he sold me the decks. I was just like, 'I'll mess around with them and if I don't like them I'll sell them.'

PM:
How long did it take you to just pick up basic concepts, like matching beats?

RJD2 :
Oh, so long, 'cause I didn't have anyone teaching me. Maybe three times as long. I really didn't have a mentor. There wasn't anybody around that could show me shit 'cause all the kids that were around were rappers and the kid that sold me the decks just wasn't that good. It took me a long time, maybe like six or seven months, to just learn how to match two beats. I was just like Funkmaster Flex shit. Ya' know, just drop shit on the one.

PM:
So, how long did it take you to make Deadringer actually?

RJD2 :
It was probably about a year and a half. There were periods where I didn't work on it. Some of the material was two-and-a-half or three years old.

PM:
So, I hear you're into playing video games? What have you been playing in the last year?

RJD2 :
Honestly, the Resident Evil series of games is one of my favorites, but I haven't gotten off the Playstation2. The last Metal Gear was great. Anything that's role-playing. I'm really into problem solving and role-playing games. The things that follow in the tradition of Zelda sort of. Like Resident Evil and Metal Gear are really fun. I'm playing Grand Theft Auto right now. It's cool. It's fun. I like it.

PM:
Are there any artists you'd like to collaborate that you haven't yet with? Mainstream artists?

RJD2 :
Yeah, without a doubt. I'm a big Ludacris fan. People into the culture of things don't want to hear that. There's not a lot of good rap records out to say I like [only] underground or commercial. To me, I'd love to do something with Ludacris. I just moved to Philly, so I'm really crossing my fingers that I'm just going to bump into Freeway. Hit him with a beat CD. I really like Freeway -- I think he's really dope. I think Rocafella right now has possibly one of the strongest rosters in hip-hop.

To me the lines are blurred. Honestly, the only way I can tell something's on a major label is if it sounds crystal clear and sounds beautiful and [by] the insignia on the record. Sometimes the Timbaland shit -- he does shit to me that sounds like it's should be on some crazy, left-wing, underground shit. Like the new Freeway shit and some of the new Rocafella shit sounds like it should be on underground. I got so much faith in them right now. I got the Freeway single, "Line 'Em Up." I was like, "What the fuck." It was probably like 85 beats per minute, slow as shit and it was just a dope song. It kinda makes me feel like when I first heard Public Enemy. I'm not saying it's that good, but I'm just saying it really has me amped on hip-hop right now.

PM:
You ever wanna collaborate with pop stars or non hip-hop artists? I mean, you see the Neptunes produce for Britney Spears.

RJD2 :
I would do production for somebody I like. D'Angelo is a perfect example. I'm not even gonna lie. I'm an R'n'B head. I like D'Angelo, I like Glenn Lewis. I like Musiq Soulchild's last album. I'm into that type of shit and if it's an artist I like, fuck it, let's go for it. I don't know. Pop no. Good singer, I mean there's good singers out there. I mean Chrisitina Aguiliera is a good singer. I think she's a good singer. I don't like her shit. Her music sucks. I mean she's on this pop star tip. I can't get with that. Not my fuckin' style, but there's definitely R'n'B singers I'd fuck with.

PM:
You've been getting a ton of great press. Were you surprised by it?

RJD2 :
Yeah of course. I mean, I don't sit around thinking I'm hot shit, like I expect every review to be 4 1/2 stars. I really had no idea. I'm glad. It feels good, but I didn't expect shit. I felt the press just could as well have grilled me. I literally had no idea. So, it feels good. It's healthy to see when people pop shit in a review, like they call me out. 'Cause sometimes they say things I actually agree with. It strikes a chord. The album isn't perfect, and there's things I look back on and I'm like, "You know what? That was kind of sloppy and I shouldn't have let that slide." It's healthy when you see that printed in a review because then you're like, "You know what, somebody caught me on that, so next time around I can't get away with that." It makes you have higher expectations of yourself.

PM:
Speaking of reviews, it seems like every review, even the one we have here...

RJD2 :
Compares me to DJ Shadow.

PM:
Yeah. You sick of that?

RJD2 :
Yeah, as you can see I've actually gotten to the point where I can tell when [the interviewer is] going to bring it up. It's cool. It's all good. But, honestly, I don't like [the constant comparison]. I understand that people have to have a reference point. You can't just blindly sell someone a record, "Oh, this record's hot, buy it." You know what I mean. You got to say it's a little of this and that's just the typical lazy journalist approach. I just hear that shit all the time. "It's somewhere between Thomas Dolby and Devo" or "El-P as Prince meets fuckin' I don't know." It's always got to be this plus that equals the record I'm reviewing. But I understand people mean it as a compliment.

PM:
How was the tour in Europe? Any craziness or good stories?

RJD2 :
We had some times, but I don't want to rat anyone out. I got to be mindful of my team. We had a good team. Ran into Shadow there -- that was cool. We did a festival with like Korn and Puddle of Mudd. It was kind of surreal. Massive Lollapalooza style. Like eight stages and they shuttle you in, you do your set and you get off. It feels good. People are into it and you get to play for like 800 to 1,000 kids. It's dope.

PM:
Have you been recognized on the street? You got deejay groupies now?

RJD2 :
Ah, no. Actually I was walking down the street the other day in Philly and I walked by a clothing store and they were listening to my album. I walked in and the guy recognized me. Not really, [though]. Not yet.

PM:
Well, I guess you can enjoy it while you can, 'cause you never know.

RJD2 :
Well, I guess you're right. Who knows? I guess you could wind up at that point. But I don't know. You got to be able to sing or at least open your mouth. I don't fuckin' talk on tracks. People wouldn't know what Timbaland looks like if he didn't talk on the tracks, if he just did the beats. People never knew what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis looked like, 'cause they were never in videos and you never hear their voices. People know what Pharell Williams looks like 'cause he uses his voice. But Chad Hugo?

PM:
When you were making the album, were you trying to make it accessible to everyone? I have friends that say they hate hip-hop now, but that have listened to your album and love it.

RJD2 :
I wasn't trying to make an album for everyone. I think the closest thing I can put into words -- what my expectations were -- is that I was trying to make an album that utilized every emotion, tempo, technique used in hip-hop that I could get away with within the boundaries of hip-hop, which is virtually nothing. [It has] virtually no boundaries. At the same time, I wanted people to listen to it as a hip-hop album. Basically, like the album De La Soul is Dead. For me, the first time I heard that album I was blown away. It expanded what a hip-hop album could be. And certain records just do that. That's what I was shooting for. I wasn't trying to make a record that a non-hip-hop head would like. I was more trying to make a hip-hop record that would just piss off the average hip-hop listener.

That's something I'm never going to stop doing. It's terminally ingrained in my psyche. When I got involved in hip-hop the only rule was just don't bite. The social climate that I came up in, it was way better to be garbage, wack as fuck but original, then to bite someone's style. I'm not going to say things necessarily changed. Don't take this the wrong way, I'm not dissin' hip-hop. I'm not saying anything sucks. But there was a time in hip-hop where it became accepted to bite. Remember the big controversy when Puffy came out using "the Message." Everybody was like, "Oh my god. What has he done? The travesty." Then that whole thing kind of wore off. Then it wasn't that big a deal. Now it's almost like people are desensitized to it. And that's not the ethic I was exposed to with hip-hop. I'd much rather get slammed in the press. People at least know I was doing my own thing.

PM:
What was that like growing up in Ohio trying to do your thing? It's not exactly the hip-hop capital of the world.

RJD2 :
This is the beauty that is coming from the Midwest. You're the underdog. It's the same reason that Eminem is dope. Eminem came up [in] the Midwest. Eminem being the only white guy in his scene. That provided a certain thing for his career. Being from the Midwest can provide the same thing for a hip-hopper in a general sense. 'Cause you don't get any respect. If you go to New York and say, 'I'm from Columbus, Ohio, and I make beats.' People are like, 'Yeah, great. Go ahead. Pop the demo in.'

It makes you in the situation where you got to work just a million times harder to gain people's respect. Then you unknowingly build up this work ethic [that] is just ridiculous. It's kind of what Eminem had to deal with. He felt like he was the big underdog, and I'm sure he was in his scene. But because of that, it made him work fifty times as hard as anyone in the scene, and because of that, he's now a star.

I was actually just thinking about this today [while] listening to the Geto Boys "We Can't Be Stopped." Rap-A-Lot Records was some hot shit in the Midwest. I noticed a lot of New York hip-hop heads knew "Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me," but they don't know the album cuts off "We Can't Be Stopped." Being in the Midwest, you don't have any coastal claim. Kids would buy Outkast records, Snoop records and Nas records, 'cause nobody was where you were from.

PM:
What's the future hold in store for you? What do you hope for?

RJD2 :
Right now I'm booked through the middle of December. I'm gonna be on tour from now until mid-December. That's not even bad compared to major-label artists. I'm gonna do that and then hopefully chill for January and February. Then I have this group, Soul Position. I'm the deejay and Blueprint, who's also on my album, [emcees].

We got an album coming out next year on Rhymesayers and we're gonna go and tour to support that in March. Hopefully around May or so I'm gonna sit down and do another album 'cause I'm already excited to do another album. Hopefully, I get a chance to produce for some people that I like. I wanna balance them out and I wanna make the next album a really big priority. Like you said, I've gotten some good press of the album and I'm very, very thankful. But at the same time I just wanna keep fuckin' people's heads up. So next time out I just want to make it as solid as possible.

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