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RJD2 - Dead Ringer

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Artist: RJD2

Album: Dead Ringer

Label: Def Jux

Review date: Jul. 25, 2002

“OK, this is the first record I’ve made under my own name...Some of the stuff I like very much...I can’t decide which piece to start with, so I won’t start with any of the pieces, I’ve already started, I hope you like what you hear.”

It’s a British accent that speaks out on the third song (including Promobot’s now-disturbingly-familiar appearance as the intro track of the promo) of RJD2’s solo album, Dead Ringer, but it’s a voice that, like many on the album, speaks for RJD2. In fact, a better title for the “instrumental” album might have been Dead Singers — there’s a surprising Moby-esque reliance on large vocal samples taken from what sound like early blues and funk recordings that act as less as backdrop samples than they do as lead singers (though some voices fade-to-back on some tracks, as in the Soul Position—RJD2 and Blueprint-track, “Final Frontier,” which showcases a softer production than Blueprint has ever laid down for himself, one that works extremely well, and makes me excited to hear the complete project). This makes it rather hard to listen to the album as an instrumental piece, which is a surprising departure from the expectations created by the June 12” and his appearances on Def Jux Presents II.

However, that does not mean in any way that the album is lacking the signature RJD2 sound. Still present are the sweeping change-ups and near-flawless drums, as well as the epic scope in many of the songs. Indeed, Dead Ringer might be better understood as an introduction to a new (more complete?) RJD2, or at least a first look at other facets of his personality as a producer. Songs like “Ghostwriter,” with its quiet guitar loop and more understated drums, are certainly different than what we’ve heard from RJD2 before, but it is a track that will leave your head bobbing for hours afterwards as it seeps into your subconscious with a layered second guitar riff, horns, and a unadorned chorus of voices (though about three minutes in, RJD2 fucks with the drums in that way that has made him such a favorite amongst those in-the-know—and one of URB’s Next 100 of 2002— simple beautiful work that induces breathlessness if you listen closely).

Joining Blueprint as guest emcees are Jakki da Motamouth (on “F.H.H.”) and Copywrite, on “June,” (released earlier this year as a 12”). The original version of that song appears here, with its long delay between the two verses, which works well on an “instrumental” LP like this one. Overall the track continues to impress, more so than the Motamouth joint, which features a not-overly-imaginative Jakki talking shit about the internet heads and anticon-like kids in a way that has become just as played out in the last two years as the old anti-mainstream rants.

Towards the second half of the LP, on songs like “The Chicken-Bone Circuit,” RJD2 moves back more towards his signature sound, the darkly stunning samples paired with drums that seem to insist upon taking the lead rather than fading into the background. There is even an extended drum-solo on that song, reminiscent of (free-?) jazz improv, which for me at least is a first on a hip-hop track.

In the end, RJD2 comes full-circle, moving through the familiar “June” to the final track, “Work,” which returns to a leading blues vocal sample. The album manages to impress overall, despite an unexpected turn in RJD2’s production and a few lackluster songs. It will be interesting to see how the public reacts to this piece of music by RJD2, and whether everyone that’s been excited about his work since the June 12” will be pleased with the new D2.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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