10 years! My god, that is a LIFETIME! I cant believe I have been making records on a national level for 10 years. In 1999, I was just making these little beats in my bedroom for release on an independent label. Fast forward to 2009, and I’m….making these little beats in my bedroom for release on an independent label. Ok, to be fair, some things have changed; a bigger studio, I OWN the studio, I OWN the independent label, and instead of driving 10 blocks to a gig in m hometown, I fly 10 hours to a gig in another country. But when it all comes down to its most base level, the goal is still the same: to make a piece of music that is going to hopefully rearrange your brain, or at least provide some relief from real life for a moment or two. So let’s take a look at what’s happened over the course of those 10 years….
Things all started in Columbus, OH with Fondle ‘em records and a rap group I was in called the MHz. We did a few 12” singles in the late 90’s on (the now defunct) Fondle ‘em, which lead to one of the members, Copywrite, doing a record on (the now defunct) Eastern Conference, which I produced some of. Those early singles also brought me to the attention of Definitive Jux, with whom I signed to(after having my demo turned down by virtually EVERY label in the US and UK that did anything remotely instrumental or weird in hiphop!). After a few singles and songs came out in 2001 under “rjd2”, 2002 saw the release of “Dead Ringer”, my first solo album. That year became the first in a series of whirlwinds that seem to change shape annually, but never slow down. I toured the world for the first time-Europe/Japan/the US several times, licensed music to an auto company of yesteryear called Saturn, spent time opening for DJ Shadow, and moved to Philadelphia. The following year of 2003 saw the release of “The Horror EP”, remixes for Massive Attack, Mos Def, Polyphonic Spree(among MANY others), more touring, and the release of the first Soul Position album, “8 Million Stories”. While traveling the states in support of the Soul Position album, I had my MPC plugged into the cigarette lighter of a rented minivan, feverishly slaving away. These tracks I made during drives across the US would become the 2004 album “Since We Last Spoke”. By then, “Dead Ringer” had surpassed 75,000 copies worldwide, and had gotten a fair amount of attention, including folks like David Lynch and Mark Ecko, among others.
With the 2004 release of “Since We Last Spoke”, I hit the road for my first headlining tour ever. Armed with 4 turntables, an mpc and a video rig, I made my way across the US and Europe for the third year in a row. The production work for other artists also continued for both rappers and singers(Diverse, Tweet, Fallout Boy,Cage, etc). But unbeknownst to the rest of the world, this year was critical in the path that lead me to where I am now: I made the decision to not resign with Definitive Jux. It was really my first move outside of a comfort zone, and into uncharted territory. It was also the start of realizing a vision of being my own boss, both creatively AND business-wise. 2004 was also the beginning of my love affair with “vintage” synthesizers and restoring them; this would lead to things later…
The next few years saw the release of many side projects: a 2nd Soul Position LP-“Things Go Better With RJ and Al”, a collaboration with Aceyalone-“Magnificent City”, the scoring of my first video game-“Mark Ecko’s Getting Up”, and the usual remixes and production work for other artists. I also contributed to the cookbook “I Like Food, Food Tastes Good”, a cookbook of musicians’ recipes. Still waiting for a Vol. 2 so I can include my homemade apple/walnut/raisin pie. Of course, I toured to support the records this year as well(I have traversed the continental US at least once a year since 2001-watch out for my comprehensive guide to espresso in America). But throughout this period of 2005-2006, I was working on some recordings that would mark the furthest reaches of anything I had done to date….
These recordings became 2007’s “The Third Hand”, a record that was done with a specific methodology in mind: get as far as I could using strictly my own resources. This meant using the MPC sampler, as I always had for my solo records, but primarily for the drums. But save for a few small passages, all of the instrumentation was performed by myself in a studio I had spent years building up to mimic the types of keyboards/guitars/amps/synths/etc that would have appeared on the types of records I COULD have been sampling. And in keeping with the intent of weaning myself off of the samples I had relied on for so long, I took on the duties of vocalist as well. My take on “sample based music” had always been to try and make things that felt like pop records, in the sense that they had a vocal element, but had the urgency and immediacy of funk or hip-hop records. To boot, I arrived at the decision to do the record on XL recordings, as I felt they believed in the record the most. Thus, 2007 was a year that many saw as one of departures, but to me was more another stop in what is hopefully a long journey. I decided at a point that I’d rather look back on a varied catalog that was interesting and challenging, than one of multiple attempts at the same vibe, with varying degrees of success. Furthermore, I just cant get excited about doing the same thing over and over. And if I cant get excited about the music im making, how can I expect someone else to?
Which brings us to now. After two years of touring as a headliner in support of “The Third Hand” with a full band, as well as winning my first award, ASCAP’S best TV Theme for my recording the Mad Men theme-its time for my 4th solo album, “The Colossus”. As “The Third Hand” was my first TRULY solo album, with NO guest performances whatsoever, I decided to do the opposite of sorts this time: an album that is as collaborative as possible; an “overview” of all the different types of working approaches ive used over the years; some strictly sample-based material, some live; some guest vocalists, a few songs I sing,; both instrumental and vocal. As this was all tracked at the same time, I think it has a cohesive feel to it. Featuring Phonte Coleman(Little Brother, Foreign Exchange), Kenna(Star Trak, VA Beach), Aaron Livingston(The Roots’ “Guns Are Drawn”), Columbus mc’s The Catalyst, Illogic, and NP, and a slew of instrumentalists, I think I can safely say this is the most sonically lush and varied record I’ve ever done.
The last piece of the puzzle is that this record marks the first album I will release on my own label, RJ’s Electrical Connections. In addition to re-acquiring the master recordings to ALL of my Definitive Jux catalog, and re-releasing them, this marks a massive step towards being completely working on my own terms, artistically and business-wise. Cheers-here’s to many more to hopefully come.
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