THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW WITH RJD2 WAS CONDUCTED IN MARCH 2004, AND WAS PRINTED IN OUR SPRING 'O4 ISSUE. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY OF THE MAGAZINE, CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.
AS IF RELEASING A DEBUT ALBUM THAT KNOCKED YOU ON YOUR ASS WASNíT ENOUGH, PHILADELPHIA-BASED PRODUCER RJD2 SPENT THE LAST FEW YEARS KEEPING YOU FLOORED WITH PRODUCTION AND REMIXES FOR HIP-HOP, TRIP-HOP, AND ROCK ACTS. HEíS ABOUT TO DO IT AGAIN WITH AN INTENSELY ORIGINAL NEW ALBUM, SINCE WE LAST SPOKE, PUTTING HIMSELF ON A NEW CREATIVE PATH AND PUTTING YOU BACK ON THE FLOOR, LIKE HE HAD YOU BEFORE. VINNIE BAGGADONUTS GETS THE LOW-DOWN FROM ONE OF DEFINITIVE JUXíS MOST CREATIVE BEAT ASSASSINS.
Vinnie Baggadonuts: So, where in Europe were you exactly?
Rjd2: Germany, France, and the UK.
VB: Were you touring for the new record?
R: Nah. I was doing press. It was hell. After a week of talking about myself, I feel like I donít even know myself anymore. Itís really dementing.
VB: And now I got you on the phone, trying to find out more about you.
R: (laughs) It all came full circle-- it was me talking about myself, and now Iím talking about myself again.
VB: What was doing press over there like?
R: It was cool. I dug eating different foods and stuff like that. I think that when you travel to Europe, you either start to like countries you already like even more, or you start to hate things about them. I know thatís really ignorant to say, but hereís the thing: 99% of the time I love traveling into Europe. But there was one specific country that gave me the two beefs that I have. One of them is that people want to berate me for being an American.
R: They want to talk to me about how stupid Americans are, and I donít mind. American culture, in conversation, starts as this third party. But after a while, it moves away from being a third party, and they start projecting their frustrations on me, talking to me about how Iím ignorant because I donít know whatís going on at Guantanamo Bay. Then it gets exhausting.
VB: I wouldnít expect that kind of behavior there.
R: I donít know. Itís not all Europeans. Just some people from this one country who seemed very self-righteous. They have a hard time understanding how you can live in America and be, essentially, totally apathetic about whatís going on politically. You know what I mean?
VB: Yeah. They think you represent your leaders.
R: Yeah! Theyíre like, "You guys elected Bush. If you didnít want him, why arenít you rioting in the streets?" Well, some people are. (laughs)
VB: Were there any positive experiences from it?
R: Oh, yeah. The response has been good about the new record, so that made it cool. We have a new distributor in Europe, too, so I was just getting to know them. I bought some records, and had a lot of really good meals.
VB: So how are you feeling about the record?
R: Definitely nervous. I mean, Iím happy with the record, but I donít know if itís gonna piss people off, or if theyíre really gonna like it.
VB: (laughs) Why would it piss people off?
R: I donít know if youíve heard it or not....
VB: I heard "Clean Living" off of Definitive Jux Presents: Volume III, but I havenít heard the rest of it.
R: Well, thereís singing on it. No rapping at all. Itís more melodic. People in Europe say it doesnít sound anything like hip-hop. I donít know. I donít think itís some weirdo art-fag shit, but....
R: You know how they have that series Music For Dummies?
R: I feel like Dead Ringer was Instrumental Hip-Hop For Dummies.
R: Seriously. I feel like a lot of the approach that went into it was me trying to make an instrumental hip-hop record that would appeal to your average rap fan. And this record is not that at all.
VB: Itís more straight-up composing? Like, youíre just trying to make some music, and not a specific kind of music?
R: Yeah. I was more concerned with melodies, songs, instrumentation... shit like that. I feel like itís light years beyond Dead Ringer. Itís shorter, more to the point. It doesnít have skits that you donít need. It doesnít have a bunch of bullshit. It doesnít have rap songs that are no good. Personally, I feel good about it. But I also think itís gonna polarize people. Theyíre either gonna love it or hate it. This is the first time I made a record without worrying about how it was going to be perceived. I wasnít attempting to fit into or defy any particular classification.
VB: Was it a natural progression for you to bring in singers and such?
R: Ummm... (laughs) Iím not going to talk about the instrumentation too much if you havenít heard it. Itís hard to describe. In terms of the recording process, though, I did do two songs with MCs. I recorded 20 songs for this record, and there were only a few things I was setting out to do with it. One is, I wanted to record as much as possible, then can some of the material to figure out what worked best as an album. The other thing I set out to do was... well, there was this period where I was picking up things like The Strokes and The White Stripes, when there was talk about how this "revival of rock" was going on. I liked those records, but none of them were exactly what I expected. A few of them ended up being close, but I was expecting the second coming of Led Zeppelin, you know? Music with balls that was melodic and had good instrumentation, but didnít sound candy-ass. And nothing was doing that. So, in the back of my head, I was like, "Maybe Iíll just make a record that sounds like what I want these rock records to sound like." So that was in the back of my head for a minute. And, to a point, it was a relief. It got my mind off of, "Oh, am I gonna just make another Dead Ringer?" But then, to a point, Iíd done four or five songs that had this rocky feel to them, and thatís when I realized it was becoming more of a limitation. So, thatís when I started recording for fun.
VB: When people hear it, and you maybe donít get the reaction you were expecting, do you feel like you need to show them all that goes into it? Like, the technical process, and how much of you goes into it?
R: Sometimes. Sometimes Iíll see reviews that were like, "Dead Ringer is just an album full of beats. There are just 15 beats on this record." And I start to feel like, "Oh, man. I mean, I know itís not your typical verse-chorus-verse song, but itís more than just a beat." I donít get too bent out of shape about it.
VB: Do you feel like itíd be something worth showing people somehow?
R: In a way, and in a way not. If something is a pretty exceptional feat production-wise, I feel like people pick it up. Letís take 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul. Itís a really obvious example. Most people arenít going to mistake that for a fluke. They can hear the amount of time and energy that went into making that record.
R: I think itís more interesting for the process to be ambiguous. Thatís how I feel about my favorite recordings. Of course thereís a part of me that wants to know everything about the process, you know? Like, how it was engineered, what kind of drum machine they used, blah, blah, blah. But in my experience, the more you find out about, the less interesting it becomes. Thereís something about demystifying a recording that bugs me. I donít want a picture of my studio on a record. It kills the mystique for me when I see a picture of my favorite producerís studio.
VB: Yeah. I just asked because the more I listen to Dead Ringer, the more complex it seems to me. I feel like so much went into it. But when I play it for people who might not be into hip-hop, or who might not ever have heard of you, part of me gets frustrated when they donít feel the same about it. I want to be like, "Dude, do you understand what went into this? Do you understand how complex this shit is?"
R: Thanks, man.
VB: I always wonder about that from your perspective as a musician. I wonder if you ever want to grab people and be like, "Yo, motherfucker! Do you understand how much work I put into this?"
R: (laughs) No, no. Iíd never want to do that. I could understand how some people might feel that way, but Iíd rather have respect from a smaller group of people. For instance, (laughs) if you listen to someone like Timbaland or Lil' John, and how they filter their bass frequencies, itís really hard to figure out. But itís a thing that will fly over the head of your average club-going listener. If you listen to a record through headphones a few times-- like "Cry Me A River", for example-- you pick up on a lot of things that went into that recording. And I would rather have a small number of people who respect what I do and pick up on things like that.
VB: So, are you gonna tour for the record?
VB: Are you gonna try and bring along some of the people who sung on the record?
R: Actually, the record is all me, except one song where I had someone sing one of the parts. Other than that, I did all of the instrumentation.
VB: Thatís cool.
R: Who knows. You might hate it. (laughs)
VB: Nah. When I got Definitive Jux III and heard "Clean Living", I put it on loop. That tune is so fucking catchy. Iím fired up to hear the whole record.
R: If youíre really curious to hear it, you could probably get a downloaded copy of it.
VB: How do you feel about downloading?
R: Honestly, the only thing Iím really feeling about downloading right now is Iím jealous of people like the Neptunes and Eminem, who are at such a huge level that they can afford not to send their records to press, so their albums donít get leaked until five days before theyíre released. Itís not a money thing. Weíve gone over and over this downloading thing because, for instance, in England, people donít listen to the record if itís got a promo copy voice-over on it. Thatís really hard on us. Weíre sending the mail outs for the album, and a lot of those people are saying, "Iím not even going to listen to this." So, weíre dealing with this issue where, to get the proper press response you need there, you have to send out clean copies of the album. Weíre still two months away from the release date. And weíre having problems because, if it gets leaked once over there, then a clean copy is out. It doesnít matter where it gets leaked from--
VB: --because it winds up everywhere.
R: Yeah. So, when I was in Europe, this is one of the things I was doing-- having meetings with people, orchestrating how this thing was gonna get rolled out over there. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, if nobodyís downloading the record, then nobodyís buying the record. And if a lot of people are downloading the record, at least in most examples, the record is also being purchased. Now, you donít know whoís doing what, but if you had to make an educated guess, you could probably guess that downloading helps sales rather than hurts them.
VB: Do you think it helps people like you, who might not be Eminem or the Neptunes, even more so?
R: Of course. And even if you sell less records, what about your live shows? People who downloaded the record are coming to the shows.
R: Really, the only bummer for me is, on an artistic level, itís completely obliterated the experience of a release date. Back in the day, nobody would hear the record until it came out. And that day, it was like-- BOOM!-- everyone would get it. And youíd hear it while seeing the artwork. If youíre really into it, youíre gonna read the liner notes. These are all things I do with records. Itís just a general appreciation. I think you have a better chance of enjoying it as a piece of art when you can see the cover, read the liner notes, and hear the whole thing without a fuckiní voice-over.
VB: Iíll download certain things. But if I know Iím gonna get the record, I donít want to hear any of it.
R: Iím the same way. I bought the Kanye West record because I was like, "Well, Iím probably gonna like this record. And even if the record sucks, I know he put a lot of work into it, and Iíll be able to appreciate it on a technical level." It was a risk I was willing to take. The biggest danger of downloading, for me, is that I think itís going to change the way music is sold and formatted. I think that the concept of an album might be a potential victim. I mean, letís say, hypothetically, five or ten years down the line, theyíve managed to stamp out all the peer-to-peer networking things. Everythingís loosely based on an iTunes type of retail store, where you buy a song for a dollar. Basically, bands are going to race to record hit songs, as opposed to good albums.
VB: Right on. So, when you recorded Since We Last Spoke, you said you were just trying to make good music, and not another Dead Ringer.
VB: When you make beats for people now, do you find yourself doing a similar thing-- just making the music how you want it to be, instead of a cut-and-dry, defined hip-hop track?
R: To be honest with you, I donít know if I can go back to that. There are things that Iíve done that are more typical, normal, 95 BPM. Iím not opposed to using those on a project, but itís hard for me to get excited to work within those confines now. In terms of doing things for other people, my inspirations right now are things like The Black Mob Group, Avery Johnson, and Daft Punk.
R: Stuff thatís extreme. Or kind of like what Timbaland was when he first came out. When you first heard him, it was a rarity. It wasnít like anything that was going on in rap. And thatís really what I get out of Daft Punk right now. It has a hip-hop aesthetic-- at least the album Discovery does-- in the way that samples are used on the album. But if anything, itís masquerading as a disco album. And, to me, thatís cool. Iíd rather be doing something different like that.
VB: Well, I think the stuff you do for other people, like the beats you did for Diverse on One A.M.; that stuff stands out. When you hear it, itís just so different. Like "Explosive"... when I first heard that, I about jumped out of my skin.
VB: For real, dude. It was like Public Enemy!
R: Thatís cool, man. That was a cool thing to do. I got to have my fun with it and do what I wanted, but I was still working at a tempo that a rapper could get away with. I donít know if Iíll be able to make that kind of music anymore.
VB: What about another Soul Position record?
R: Oh, yeah! I want to do another Soul Position record. We could make it work. He did a double-time song for my album, and it came out incredible. We wouldnít go in thinking about making it a record that would be, essentially-- not that youíd shoot for this-- but the idiotís journalistic description of it: "An album somewhere between Bonecrusher and Jungle Brothers."
R: Itíd either be really slow, or really fast. There would never be any mid-tempo. From a production standpoint, that would be a fun project.
VB: With the new album done, and this music you have in your head that you want to make, is there anyone you want to work on a project with?
R: Yeah. I mean, Iíve been sending pieces to some people. I donít want to name any names at this point in case it doesnít work out. But there are some major label people Iíve been talking to.
VB: And then you can start scoring movies.
VB: So, when youíre making music, is it hard to channel your thoughts or emotions into your medium?
R: Oh, no. In my experience, youíre never gonna express 90% of the emotions that you feel through the course of a day. For me, I have to sit down in the studio and mess around and have fun until I stumble across an emotion or a feeling or a vibe I can identify with. I find that, hold onto it for dear life, and hope that it turns into a song. For me, itís virtually impossible to say, "Oh, man. Iím bummed out. I got bills to pay. I got too much debt. Letís make a song about being bummed out about the bills." It doesnít work like that.
VB: I just wondered if, you know, say youíre working on a song and it has a particular vibe to it. But you personally arenít feeling that vibe today. I wondered if you have to detach your own emotions so you can complete that track.
R: You hit the nail on the head, man. The way I recorded this record is, Iíd be working on a number of things at one time. And, basically, if I was in a certain mood to work on a certain thing, Iíd work on that. Sometimes it was even simpler than that. That kind of thing was prevalent throughout the recording of this record. A lot of times I find that producing is like problem solving. Itís very similar to chess, or problem solving video games. Have you ever played Resident Evil?
R: Tomb Raider is a better example. Sometimes you canít figure a part out. And if you walk away from it and come back later with a fresh perspective, the solution is right there.
VB: Yeah. Like you see that one corner you never tried to jump to before.
R: Yeah. Usually itís something thatís right under your nose, but you didnít think about trying it. Music is the same way. I canít force it. And I think thatís the easy thing to do when you make this sort of cut-and-paste music. If you just want to get the songs done, then you come out with a result thatís not as good as what it could be. The hardest thing is to let it sit. If a song takes two weeks, cool. But if a song takes four months, be patient. Thatís the best thing you can do for it.
VB: In The Horror DVD, you talked about adding different elements to your album cuts live, instead of reproducing it as is. When you go out to promote Since We Last Spoke, are you gonna do something similar?
R: Because almost all the songs on the new album have some sort of vocals, Iím gonna try to do remixes for the record so people recognize the acapellas, but maybe not the beat. Itíll work. I think if you make electronic music, the best thing you could do for the live show is record a new album.
R: Yeah. But that doesnít make sense, because only really adventurous listeners want to hear something completely new. Most people want to be able to recognize something. So, using acapellas or elements of a beat people recognize with an instrumental theyíve never heard before gives you the best of both worlds.
VB: I got one more thing I want to ask you. You were talking about being in Europe earlier, and how they associated you with the leaders of America and what they were doing throughout the world, like youíre the cause of all the problems and shit. Are you politically active?
R: Yeah. I try and do what I can. I vote. But Iíd feel like a hypocrite if I went on and on about politics in all my records or at my gigs just to make money, and then not donate to some political cause. I donít want to front like Iím some kind of political activist, because Iím not. At the end of the day, I know whatís going on. Itís important to, especially when youíre overseas. But Iím too disillusioned by America to care.
VB: Do you see yourself living in another country down the road?
R: I donít think another country, but it would be nice to get as far off the grid as possible. Unfortunately, Iím kind of on the IRS' radar. When you get 1099s, you are. I probably bought a lot of machine guns or a couple of missiles with what Iím going to pay the IRS this year. It sucks.
VB: Do you feel like thereís hope for change?
R: Itís going to come down to this election. Maybe you feel differently, but I feel like the media has changed in the last four years. More and more, I feel like Iím being lied to.
VB: Yeah. I canít watch that shit.
R: Yeah. I feel like, if Bush wins this election, I donít know how the whole country canít feel like something fishy is up.
VB: Yeah. Do you think the people have the ability to confront it if something fishy did happen?
R: I donít know. Iíd like to think so. They say that drug abuse is slowly declining among teenagers in America. So, Iíd like to think that Americans are not apathetic because theyíre always stoned and playing video games.
READ OUR FIRST INTERVIEW WITH RJD2 HERE.