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With its seamless syntheses of vintage sounds, RJD2’s 2002 debut Deadringer heralded the arrival of a singular hip-hop talent and upped the ante for all would-be beatmakers. Using hip-hop as an approach rather than a stylistic constraint, the Ohio producer crafted wonderfully organic and impeccably arranged aural collages which often replicated the sound of a real band. Two years, and a hundred freelance productions later, RJ is back with an even more ambitious album, the near indefinable, genre-hopping frenzy that is Since We Last Spoke. We caught a few precious minutes with the tireless sonic explorer, who obliged us with a little insight into his ideas, his methods and his hatred of the Internet.

There are a lot of different elements on the new record, would you say that you’ve changed direction?
A little bit. I don’t ever sit down and try to do the same thing, ever. I never try recreating a certain style, when I did the Aceyalone record [Love & Hate] it was something new. Every time I sit down at the sampler I try and do something new. I feel like people perceive [Since We Last Spoke] differently because it’s a solo record.

How do you approach your work?
I start with a sample of some sort and then just kinda noodle with it and see if I can come up with a riff or a loop – with the drums and stuff. Then if I can get that going and can build on it I just see how far it goes basically.

Do you actively search for particular sampling material for each project?
I don’t necessarily shoot for any specific kind of thing, when I’m out digging I look for all kinds of shit.

Are you adding real / live instrumentation and vocals now?
A little bit, I played some things on this record [but] it’s mostly samples. There would be times when maybe I found something and I liked the vibe of it but maybe it was too obvious and I was worried about legalities. Sometimes I’d find a record and say this little part of it is cool but the band are playing and the drums and everything else are in there. [If] I just wanted the keyboard part – I’d just learn the keyboard part – play that, sample that and dump it into the machine and have it as a sample. I sing on some of it, actually my girlfriend’s on there, she’s singing as well.

So did you play instruments before?
Actually I went to music school where I had to study composition, so I’ve got a little bit of experience playing instruments. I’m not any kind of wiz, but I’m decent, I can get by. [Formal training] is good when I need to get things in key and in time and stuff, knowing the building blocks certainly helps.

A lot of your stuff sounds pretty live with a vintage, authentic sound, do you make a conscious effort to achieve that?
Oh yeah, definitely. There was a point in time when it became sort of an agenda to try to do more of a band kind of organic feel, I think that it’s just in my nature now to want to shoot for that kind of thing. My favourite hip-hop records are from this era between ’88 and ’93 when a lot of things were just loops. [Back then] people were just looping soul music – anywhere from [Big Daddy Kane’s] Long Live The Kane to De La Soul Is Dead - they would just loop some shit and rap over it and you can’t get much more organic than that.

So does sampling itself have a particular quality that attracts you?
I don’t know. It naturally it has it’s own predisposition – by nature things are going to have a loop-y feel. I find myself constantly fighting against what I think is sort of the nature of sample-based music – which is to be repetitive basically –I’m usually doing what I can to break out of that.

Is it difficult to achieve emotional resonance with sample-based music?
Let’s say I find a loop or something that I want to use – you attach yourself to a particular aspect or emotion that you find in it – part of it is looking for like-minded sounds and part of it is just laying things out in a way that kind of helps accomplish what you want. It’s what you can hear in a particular sound. I don’t ever try and make things that have a wacky hodgepodge feel, I don’t try and take things out of context. If I’m working on something that’s got an ‘83 Cars-y rock vibe then that’s what I’m going to shoot for, for the whole song. I want the whole song to fit with that, I don’t want this ’83 Cars-y rock thing with ’68 soul vocals.

You’re playing a show at the Sonar Club event, do you have any interest in or feel any affinity with electronica or that scene?
Oh man, you got to tell me what the Sonar scene is, honestly, I’m not too familiar with it. I don’t know a whole lot about it; I have a hard time keeping up with what’s going on in rap.

Do you feel that performance is an important element of hip-hop?
It’s fun – I don’t know how important I would say it is. It’s a different thing, it’s a chance to get out there and take a stab and do something interesting in a live context. It’s tough though, presenting electronic music – across the board, in a live manner is never easy. But, it’s a fun challenge, I just got off tour in the States doing release parties and I had a blast, I felt like it went really well.

And do you feel about hip-hop as a whole in 2004?
I think it’s good. I feel the same way as I have for a long time now, there are good things in the scene and there are bad things and you’ve got to pick and choose. The older I get, the more I realise that there’s so much shit out there and I really don’t care about what the 'status quo of hip hop' is [or] get into big philosophical and cultural arguments, it’s so stupid to me you know what I mean? I just feel like life is short.

It doesn’t help when people set things against each other…
You know I love the concept of the Internet, I think it’s a really, really powerful thing – but in my experience, It just sucks (laughs) because of this, because people don’t know how to have a conversation. Everything just deteriorates into 'What do you think about blah blah blah?' 'Yeah, well Def Jux rules and all this other commercial shit sucks ass and you’re a faggot if you don’t think so!'– you know, it’s just stupid. Life is short, if you don’t like music, go play video games or read a book. Just because music sucks, why would you want to sit round and argue about it? It’s only music.

So who are your contemporaries, peers, inspirations?
I love MF Doom’s production – I mean he’s a great MC, but as a producer…I’m a really big fan. Timbaland is probably the first guy that comes to mind, over the last three or four years he’s really done some really relevant shit…Ski, Rich Harrison, you know Just Blaze and Kanye [West] come up with stuff that I like. El-P, guys around me…there’s a ton of people…

Andrew Bowman

Phone interview
Thank you to Sereana and Ramble.

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Since We Last Spoke

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