The prolific experimental hip-hop producer RJD2 recently released “Peace of What” (featuring Jordan Brown) – the first single from his forthcoming album Dame Fortune (coming out on March 25). Dame Fortune is the producer’s 10th full-length studio album.
RJD2 became an instant darling of the critics with the release of his debut album, 2002’s Deadringer – which featured an array of jaw-dropping, raw hip-hop grooves. His even more experimental album, 2007’s The Third Hand, was a bit of a departure from his previous sample-based style, and though the album wasn’t a critical success, it set the stage for future adventures in studio experimentation, live instrumentation and genre-bending. The producer gained even more recognition when AMC approached RJD2 for the use of his song “A Beautiful Mine” as the title theme to a new show called Mad Men. He’s produced beats with hip-hop heroes like Mos Def and DOOM, and remixed dozens of songs by indie bands like Yo La Tengo and even a classic Rat Pack-era standard like Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”
Dame Fortune is RJD2’s best work yet – a full set of feel-good funk grooves, raw hip-hop beats, as well as dives into psychedelic soul and downtempo experimentation. The album also features a host of some of RJD2’s favorite collaborators, including Jordan Brown, Son Little, Phonte Coleman, Blueprint and Josh Krajcik.
I got a chance to talk to RJD2 last week. Like his music, the conversation was a mash-up of different things; some serious topics like gun control and the state of hip-hop, and some funny sidebars like what kind of food he would serve if he owned a food truck (dates with almond butter, among other things) and the NES game with the best music (Metroid). He talks in dense bursts of thought, and like one of his tracks, he may take an interesting tangent and arrive at an unexpected fresh idea. Look out for the full interview coming soon, but in this short excerpt he tells us what went into the creation his soulful new single “Peace of What” (featuring Jordan Brown) and how he beat a bad case of demo-itis.
Mike Andrelczyk: What did you use to make your single “Peace of What?” Samples? Instruments?
RJD2: There were no samples on it. It’s all live. The title “Peace of What” is a reference to a Main Source song called “Peace is Not the Word to Play.” I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the Main Source song, but [it goes]: “Peace / piece of what? / You can’t mean p-e-a-c-e / ’cuz I’ve seen people on the street shoot the next man and turn around and say ‘peace.’” That’s how the Main Source song opens, and that little couplet encapsulated everything that I wanted to convey. For whatever reason, [Main Source MC] Large Professor’s delivery of that opening line encapsulated my exact feelings about where we’re at in relation to the issue of gun violence in America right now. The spirit behind those lines that Large Professor wrote were almost a better illustration than just extracting lyrics from the song.
MA: It’s like a sample in spirit, like inspiration, but not actual instrumentation.
MA: So what’s on the track? What did you use to make it?
RJD2: There’s drums, bass, piano, guitar and then string parts that were farmed out to a string team out of Oregon, and the horns were done by some Philly guys. There’s some buried synths in there. That was a song that I just struggled with the instrumentation forever. I actually had to put it down for a while. There’s a thing that can happen when you mix music where basically each time you take a pass at something you’re just making it worse. Some people in the world of music call it “demo-itis.” You end up unsuccessfully chasing a vibe that existed in the demo that can never be recaptured.
MA: How did you cure the demo-itis?
RJD2: I just got lucky. I worked on the instrumentation of the song for so long, and the mix just didn’t have any urgency. It just wasn’t working at all. I save the generations each time I mix a track. So, I went back to one of the older sessions and somehow it sounded great. The drums were loud and slapping, but it was beefy and just sounded really urgent and great. I remember the relief of being like, “I’m so glad that, even though I wasted a month chasing a unicorn that didn’t exist, at least I have this old session where it works.”
RJD2 performs at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster (223 N. Water St.) on March 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20 and the show is open to all ages.
RJD2’s forthcoming album Dame Fortune will be available on March 25. Pre-order it here.