RJD2 is a bit of a hero in the underground hip-hop circuit, guest-spotting for rappers like Aesop Rock, Murs, Atmosphere and many more on his old label, Definitive Jux. He gained my respect early on in my music listening days for his unique mesh of hip-hop drums, techno synths, folk/indie loops, and a few other tricks he uses that I consider the “special sauce” of DJs—those little details that defy reason. A good example of this would be one of his most classic songs, “Ghostwriter” (off of “Deadringer”), which features, if you listen really carefully, a couple of sped up Elliot Smith loops among big band trumpets and soul-singer wails.
Now, 10 years after his start, RJD2 has retained a few of his signature moves on his newest album, “The Colossus.” He’s still got a thing for brass (as is easily observed by the first track, “Let There Be Horns”), and the drums are still intricate, original products that demand praise. But aside from these staples you have a very different piece of work then classic RJD2. First off, he’s singing. For some weird reason, RJD2 has decided to take up a hand in lyrics along with beat-making, and maybe it is this double-tasking that has caused both to sound a bit watered-down. It hurts me to say this, being a longtime fan, but the guy’s voice sounds like a mix between Sting and Clay Aiken, which, matched with either poppy, shallow lyrics or ones filled with dopey angst, make for a highly annoying addition to a few of the songs. And the ones that remain thankfully instrumental lack the buildup and crescendo of previous albums, giving you a good beat but not a good song.
One benefit (or fallback, depending on how you look at it) of this album is its versatility. It goes from cerebral tribal synth-n-drum battledrome in “A Spaceship For Now” to happy-go-lucky summer circle-jerk in the very next song, “The Shining Path”. For both of these songs, I enjoyed them about halfway, and then realized that where there should have been the good ol’ RJD2 climax, it was just second verse, same as the first. Still, RJD2 does a decent job of keeping the mood as unpredictable as Texas weather. Sometimes it gets a little too extreme, though. For example: “Small Plains.” Skip this track. If you have any previous experience with RJD2, hear my words on this one.
RJD2 has made four full-length albums (along with numerous collaborations, EPs, and mix tapes, but we’ll rule those out for now). Among these, you have two camps of RJD2, in my eyes. “Deadringer” (2002) and “Since We Last Spoke” (2004) are in the camp of fuck yeah, this shit is changing my life as I listen. “The Third Hand” (2007) and “The Colossus” (2010) belong to the camp of God I can’t believe I’m even nodding my head to this. Actually, to be fair, “The Third Hand” is more of a transition into this weird, weird funk RJD2’s found himself in. So, if this is your first glimpse of this artist, please don’t buy this album. Buy his first two, maybe even his third, if they touch you like they did me. But forget about this “Colossus” business. Something went wrong in the lab with this one.