RJD2
interview by vinnie baggadonuts
illustration by debbie

IT'S THE THREE LETTER, ONE NUMBER COMBO POPPING UP EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK: RJD2. A DJ WHOSE WORK RANKS RIGHT UP THERE BETWEEN BACH AND EDDIE BO-- A HIP-HOP BACKBONE WHOSE COMPOSITIONS FEEL MORE LIKE SOUL MUSIC SYMPHONIES THAN THE TYPICAL WIKKY-WIKKY BLING SHIT YOU HEAR SCREAMING OUT OF CLEAR CHANNEL RADIO STATIONS. READ ON, AS VINNIE BAGGADONUTS DISTRACTS ONE OF THE HARDEST WORKING DEF JUX ARTISTS FROM HIS BUSY SCHEDULE.

Vinnie: So, you just got back from Coachella?

Rjd2: Yeah. Well, what is today-- Wednesday? I got back Tuesday morning.

V: How was that?

R: It was good. You know, the gig was fun. I didn't get to see anybody. Well, I got to see a little bit of the White Stripes. That was it. But, it was cool.

V: Was that the biggest festival you've played?

R: I don't know. It's up there. Actually, there's some European stuff I did last year that might be comparable. But it's all insane, you know what I mean? There's eight million people dancing, and the bands playing are all big time and famous.

V: Is the crowd reaction different in Europe?

R: Well, not at things like that. It's basically the same thing. Some people kinda care, and some don't give a shit. People just sort of walk around and go from tent to tent. Now, in other ways? Yes, they react differently. It kinda depends on the situation. With hip-hop shows, well, I kinda do two different circuits. You know, if I'm out with the guys, like El-P and Lif and stuff-- a venue type setting-- the people are hype. They're into it. It's similar to being in the States. Now, when you're in a club and you're DJing,.. I've done DJ tours in Europe, and that's real different. It's a different mind state. In the UK, some of the singles that hit the chart and go Top 40 are real bizarre, one-of-a-kind type of things. So it makes it so people have open minds. You can play shit that people haven't heard and, if they like it, they'll dance. Unlike here, where it has to be, like, 50 Cent or Nas.

Both: (laugh)

V: So, you're in Philadelphia now.

R: Yeah.

V: Because, when we tried to get a hold of you, a friend of ours, Benny Mistak, actually--

R: Yeah! I know Benny!

V: Well, he told us you're always busy. Then we saw the new site, and contacted the right people through that. The site is awesome.

R: Oh, cool. Thanks.

V: So, he told us you moved. I was wondering why you left Columbus for Philly?

R: It was a number of reasons. Truth be told, I was at a point in my life where, you know, sometimes decisions are hard to make, and you're 50/50 on some things. But moving to Philly was the kind of thing that, all at once, there were seven reasons why I should move there. One of them was my girlfriend, who I live with. She wanted to move to Philly. She kinda hated Columbus. So that was part of it. Columbus is great. I love it there, and I miss it a lot. But it wasn't doing much for my career. I was at a point where I was having to go to New York, sometimes two or three times a month. So it was kinda inconvenient for me to live out in Ohio where I didn't work, and didn't really have anything to do there other than pay really cheap rent. For years and years, when I wasn't making money, I could afford to live in Ohio, you know what I mean? Part of it was also that I just feel real comfortable here. Philly has a long history of music. Philly and Detroit were kind of Meccas of soul.

V: Yeah. It's funny you say that, because when I got Deadringer, I never really thought of it as hip-hop. I thought of it more as soul music. Most of the songs sound like old soul songs.

R: Yeah. I mean, that's what a lot of it's culled from. I'm into that shit.

V: The other reason I ask about the move is, we're leaving Columbus for a lot of career-based reasons--

R: The magazine is?

V: Yeah.

R: Really? That's cool.

V: Yeah. We're going up to Chicago. We got approached by an investor--

R: Really?

V: Yeah, he wants us to take it bigger. We're gonna distribute it in L.A., Chicago, Milwaukee--

R: That's great! That's cool. Excellent.

V: Thanks. I mean, we've been here four-and-a-half years, and Columbus just wasn't doing anything for us, business wise.

R: Yeah. It's definitely an uphill battle. But it's cool, you know what I mean?

V: Yeah. How did your move affect working with the Megahertz crew?

R: Well, it's not good. But then again, things have changed. Camu moved to New York; Pete, for a while, lived in New York; Copywrite moved to New York for a while. And that's when I was back in Ohio, and we still managed to figure shit out. You stay on the phone, you stay in contact, so it's not the end of the world. It's one of those things where, truth be told, I don't feel like I abandoned anybody. It wasn't like that. If everybody in the crew was like, "Stay in Ohio and let's do it," then it would've been a lot harder for me to move to Philly.

V: When we announced we were moving, we got a piece of hate mail.

R: No shit?

V: Yeah. It was from somebody in Columbus. And the funny thing of it was-- the reason we were like, "We have to get an interview with Rj now"-- is because they told us we were selling out for leaving to make money. And they were like, "You don't see Rjd2 leaving Columbus."

R: (laughing)

V: (laughing) And I'm thinking to myself, "He did!"

R: Man, you know, it's like, I'm not trying to hear shit. I would like to see somebody say that shit to my face. What are these fucking crumbs gonna tell me?!? We were all grinding out in Columbus when Columbus wasn't cool. It wasn't cool, it wasn't hip, it wasn't on a fucking national scene. We hadn't done shit. You know what I mean? Tash from the fuckin' Alkaholiks was from Columbus, and what the fuck did he do after they got picked up? He moved! Cause he's smart, you know? Fuck it! People aren't stupid. The funny thing is, the cats who was down at the Groove Shack in the mid-Nineties, going to battles, going to shows, they're all like, "Good for you." When I talk to my friends who have been around, they're like, "That's great. You're doing it." To be honest, I haven't spoken to anybody that has said shit yet.

V: It's dumb! It's like they're saying, "Who the fuck do you think you are for doing what you're trying to do, and feed yourself doing it."

R: Yeah! The thing is, to me, I'm not trying to sound arrogant or anything, but we fucking did what we could. We have been paying our dues. We aren't hiding shit. You know what I mean?

V: Oh, yeah.

R: People ask in interviews and stuff, and I'm like, "Yeah! I'm from Columbus." I don't tell people I'm from Philly, because I'm not from Philly.

V: I don't understand why the geography is so important to people anyway. If the product can go out, and you can make your music, it's gonna be good no matter where it's coming from.

R: I don't know. Can you hold on a second? (pause) I had to light a cigar. I had a good day today, so I had to treat myself. What were we talking about? Columbus?

V: Yeah. People complaining about other people leaving it.

R: Oh yeah. Whatever. I don't know. I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about it.

V: So, you have a new double disc out.

R: Yeah. It's an EP, like one of those b-side type things. All those b-sides were only on 12" and stuff. A couple new songs, a couple remixes. The second disc is some DVD shit or whatever.

V: So, remixes. Because I don't know shit about it, how does that work exactly? Do you hook up with the artist and do it? Or do they just send you a tape?

R: It depends on who it is and where they're located. The only things I've really done that were hands-on were a remix for Aesop Rock, and one for Cannibal Ox. I was in touch with them, playing it for them, and getting feedback on it from them, because it's more of a family type thing with Def Jux. It's less of like a business thing. But I've done remixes for other things. I just did a remix for Massive Attack, and I never had any contact with the group. The manager contacted me on their behalf. That's why people have managers-- because they can't sit around all day and be on the fucking phone. They send me a tape, I do what I want, and I send it back. In a situation like that, you're dealing with the label. Virgin. And they either like it, or they don't.

V: How is shit different now? Because, you're out there more. I see your name everywhere. Do you get the remixes you wanna do?

R: Yeah. I get more opportunities, bigger opportunities. I'm getting paid better for what I do. At this point in my life I'm turning down things. I never had to deal with turning things down. I did so many bullshit parties for free, stupid little frat parties and house parties, bullshit where I would lug all my equipment and records to play just for free, just to do it in Columbus. 50 bucks, 75 bucks. 125 bucks. Now I'm at a point where I can choose to do or not do some things. It's nice.

V: What's the weirdest shit you've been offered? Something where you were like, "I'm not doing that."

R: There's a guy named James Yorkston. I'm sure you've never heard of him. He's from the U.K., and he's a folk singer. Kind of along the lines of Will Oldham. But he has a surer voice. He doesn't have the warbly voice problems that Will Oldham has. I love Will Oldham, but, you know what I mean. So, he makes this really, really pretty folk music, and they had heard a single I put out called "Here's What's Left". So they called me for a remix. But I couldn't do anything, because it was so good. The music was perfect the way it was. And it's too bad, because the money was good and I like the artist. But it was one of those situations where I didn't have anything to offer this guy. And I wanted to take the money very badly. But in my heart I knew it was the wrong thing to do. The actual weirdest, though, was one day when I was in a music store, I was looking for needles or something, and one of the guys that happened to be shopping at the store kind of accosted me. He didn't know I was anybody. He just thought I was some kid who was a DJ, and he wanted me to go to an audition to be the Insane Clown Posse's DJ for a tour.

Both: (laugh)

R: That's probably the weirdest thing I've ever been offered. This wasn't resume type shit. This was literally a guy walking up to me in a music store.

V: I probably would've gone to that just to see who was auditioning. That would've been hilarious.

R: I was tempted, because I knew they were going to make me wear a mask. This was before my album came out, and I needed the money. And they were gonna pay me peanuts, too. But I was like, "Hey, I could do this, and nobody would know it's me."

V: So what are you working on now?

R: The new album. There are a couple little production things coming out here and there, and a couple things I did in the past that I'm waiting to come out. Truth be told, what I'm working on is trying to not do shit. I'm trying to focus on my next album, and not get sucked into doing gigs that pay well, because I don't want to do them. I mean, I wanna do some stuff here and there. Copywrite's working on a new record. And Cage is working on a new record. And they both asked me to do some stuff for it. But I'm really, really hypersensitive about the sophomore slump. Because of that, I've already started working on the next album. It's different than the last album. The last album, I didn't really have a deadline. I was just doing the songs to do them. You don't think about shit. You just sit down, be creative, fuck around, and experiment. Now, my life is really regimented. It's a little harder to work. But it's great. Every day I think about how fucking lucky I am to have this job, you know?

V: Do you seriously think it's luck? Because, like you said, you did pay your dues.

R: Yeah. But you have to attribute a certain amount if it to luck, because you can't turn around and be like, "I'm great!" That's not really healthy. And I know there are kids out there like I am, who haven't gotten breaks like I have. I'm sure that they will. When luck was handed out, I just made sure I was the first motherfucker in line. I'm just at a point where my job actually makes me better at what I do. I've improved as a DJ more in the last ten months since my album came out than the other eight or nine years that I've been a DJ. I'm amazed. It's just from being on the road and doing it every night. Same thing with production. Now I can work under pressure a little easier. I have a job that allows me to hone my skills.

V: You said you get really nervous about the sophomore slump. Is there anything you do to take your mind off of that?

R: I don't worry about it. I don't stress that it's gonna be whack. I'm just focused. I keep my priorities straight, and try not to get lazy. I don't think people's second records are bad because they lose talent. 90% of the time, I'm positive, it's because their first album is a culmination of years and years of trying to get a deal. So when you get a deal, the record label is like, "18 months after we drop the album, we want another record." So, your first album, you got to spend three years recording it. Your second album, you get to spend two months recording it. So I'm just trying to be prepared.

V: What's the Def Jux atmosphere like?

R: It's good. It's cool. It's a good situation, because I can sit down with my boss-- I'm on tour with him! I can talk to him, they trust me, and it's cool. I decide what single was gonna be the single from my album. It was hands-on. That kind of shit. Most of them just let me stronghold the whole process. I don't really know what goes on at other labels. Right now, I have a good relationship with, not only El, but Jessie, who is the operating manager. And Ameche, who is the co-owner.

V: So, are you familiar with the paper?

R: Yeah. I've read it.

V: Then this question I'm about to ask you won't catch you completely off guard.

R: Okay.

V: Do dogs have lips?

R: Well, they gotta have lips.

V: They gotta have lips?

R: Yeah. They're all drooly and shit. They gotta have lips.

SHOUT OUT: Rjd2 finished the phone chat with a shout out to everyone in Columbus who's always supported hip-hop, from the Groove Shack on up.

READ OUR SECOND INTERVIEW WITH RJD2 HERE.

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