In the distant universe of the Musician, our group of super-heroes has two primary arch-enemies: Ambition and Expectation. These two foes attack our beloved protagonist by placing an incredible weight upon his or her shoulders, a Vulcan death grip, if you will. Only the strongest emerge victorious, and those who do not survive find themselves in Follow-Up Hell. We’ve seen it happen before to far too many promising prospects, with the media glaring down and fans anticipating bigger, faster, stronger; artists feel the need to do to much and more often then not wind up in pretty deep shit.
It seemed as if RJD2 had the tools to ward off these menacing creatures—Deadringer displayed a technique and tone that set the hip-hop world on its ear (forget about the DJ Shadow references, please). Since We Last Spoke is a different album entirely. Gone are the gray, vinyl-cracking-between-the-notes samples and ankle-snapping tempo changes that made Deadringer so heralded. This is hardly even a hip-hop album—most of the tones and techniques employed within Since We Last Spoke reach for synthy sounds and IDM ideologies instead of tried-and-true scratching and spitting (records and rhymes, that is—not balls and saliva). Despite the fact that RJ’s moody and ambient leanings were mated perfectly within the confines of Deadringer‘s jazzy blue-notes, RJ uses far more unusual styles this time around. “Making Days Longer” is his most radical turn, and also his most successful. The song is unlike anything you could ever imagine coming from the man, featuring delicately placed blips and Postal Service-esque bells behind a straightforward vocal—this is something that belongs on Warp Records, not Def Jux’s hip-hop-hooray catalogue. The closest you get to Deadringer‘s foggy flow comes in the album’s second-half, where RJ continues to shun conventional beats but settles into a beautifully pained groove.
RJ’s sense of melody and rhythm, part of the reason the underground embraced Mr. Krohn like they did, is like no other. He hasn’t instantaneously given up those skills, and his texturing processes match Deadringer‘s. The difference with Since is the decision making of what sounds to use, and an effort to take on as much as possible within the album’s twelve tracks. This bravery is refreshing, especially considering the success rate of most artists who try complete stylistic makeovers. RJ finds his own magic tucked in genres and styles neglected by the rest of the world.
While it’s hard not to be disappointed by Since We Last Spoke at first, listen to it more and you’ll find an solid and inventive work from someone not willing to be pigeonholed in a certain class. The ethereal crooning and well-layered sound comes from a heartbroken first-person point-of-view. Much like Prefuse 73’s amazing One Word Extinguisher, Since We Last Spoke is a breakup album. And with the appearance of RJ as a capable singer, his point comes across much clearer. “Making Days Longer” laments over lonliness: “It’s nice to hear you say ‘Hello’ / And ‘How are things with you’ / But pretty soon it’s time to go / An office job to do / And I’ll be writing songs for you.”
It may not be obvious at first, but Since We Last Spoke is as well-rounded and creative a record as you’re going to find this year. Copywrite’s plea of “RJD2 drop that shit so I can drop my thoughts” may go unanswered this time around, but in the process RJ has crafted a love letter to all music—not just the celebrated. By unearthing a beauty in forms never thought to have contained any, RJD2 has crafted his own diamond in the rough.