I can take or leave DJs. They’re as common as guitar players and frequently as obnoxious. Just as there are three Malmsteens for every Johnny Marr, there are about ten Paul Oakenfolds for every DJ Shadow. Sometimes it’s not even worth wading through the more savvy of the bunch just to find a satisfying turntablist. But then you make it past those next ten Sashas and Digweeds to find a funky, unpretentious cat like RJD2. And all of your trouble somehow seems worth it.
Deejays like RJD2 are an extremely rare commodity. When hip-hop is infested with producers that ruin perfectly good tracks by adding Jamie Foxx, RJD2 will deliver you from skits. And when electronica has become nothing more than house music with Led Zeppelin samples, RJD2 will cleanse you of 303-induced tinnitus. RJD2 not only makes it okay for you to listen to dance music again. He makes it good.
The most striking thing about RJD2’s newest album, Since We Last Spoke, is how much of a rock album it is. The title track (as well as “Exotic Talk” and “Ring Finger”) is built on heavy guitar samples, coming off sounding like a more sophisticated Fatboy Slim. And songs like “1976” (RJ’s birth year) and “Clean Living” are down `n’ dirty funk, desperately in need of accompanying afro-wearing 70s detectives. When RJ kicks out the jams, he does it with a healthy dose of testosterone and grit.
But Mr. D2 can be the sensitive sort when he wants to be. “To All of You” is a smooth and soulful slow jam that would make the entire west coast jealous. But “Making Days Longer” is the most intriguing song in this collection (notice I didn’t say best). It’s a cover of an old tune by Labi Siffre, an openly gay English singer in the 70s, whose hit “I Got The” loaned a Rhodes sample to Eminem’s “My Name Is…” The song ends up sounding like Depeche Mode filtered through Prefuse 73. It’s an interesting idea, but as the only vocal track on the album, it pales, merely because RJD2’s instrumental work is inevitably superior.
Instead of waiting for Moby to do something truly incredible or for DJ Shadow to do…well…anything, it would be a good idea to focus on artists like RJD2 who are out there releasing quality records without compromising artistic integrity, street cred or a regular schedule. RJD2 is some serious hip-hop, and that ain’t no jive.
DJ Shadow – The Private Press
Prefuse 73 – One Word Extinguisher
DJ Cam – The Beat Assassinated
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.