Tomorrow, RJD2 is releasing his newest album, More Is Than Isn’t. While some may only know him in passing as the mind behind ”A Beautiful Mine” (that jaunty set of beats that Don Draper falls to at the beginning of each Mad Men episode), you can also hear his work in NBA Street Homecourt and NBA 2K6, as well as the opening credits of TNT’s Inside the NBA (that song’s called “Ghostwriter,” by the way). Needless to say, when the hammer is down, nothing will loosen your game up like a set of beats from RJ, whose name is rightly spoken in reverent tones by America’s best rappers and music moguls alike.
His long-awaited new album is an ambitious leap from his previous material and plays up a whole lot of upbeat beats and synth melodies. We talked to RJ about what’s changed since he dropped his previous album, The Colossus, back in 2010, plus crazy cross-country tours, starting his own label and the state of the rap game today.
BALLnROLL: RJ, you’ve been in the game almost two decades. How do you keep yourself fresh and relevant? What more contemporary elements have you incorporated into your new album?
RJD2: I keep things fresh by allowing myself to explore new ideas and ways of doing things within the confines of recorded music. Basically, I let the music I make reflect the developments I experience as a listener. To be accurate, this is more just letting a natural progression happen, as opposed to working to consciously be anything: really-fresh, relevant, etc. I don’t concern myself too much with being relevant, as relevance is a cultural idiom, not a musical one. All I can really do is hope that there is a place within the context of modern music in which I can put records out. Contemporary elements? I rely on a computer to do some things for me in the studio, guess I’d say. I think that how things are used does more to dictate a “contemporary” sound than the actual device itself, personally. I allowed myself to do some things in some songs that really can only be done digitally, in other words, things that sound like they came from a computer.
BnR: Do you still kick it with Al Shepard (Blueprint, RJD2’s partner in Soul Position)?
BnR: Your new album is split up by three “suites.” Any significance?
RJD2: I’d leave that significance up to the listener. I don’t even think I could put into words what they mean to me; sometimes it’s hard to find words to illustrate the things that music can do so well.
BnR: The album is being released on Electrical Connections. Moving back a bit in time, why did you decide to start your own label?
RJD2: I started a label so that I would always have an outlet to release music in an unencumbered fashion—no more negotiating about tracks, or styles, or release dates. In addition, owning my own masters and publishing is a pretty great benefit. I’ve got a great distribution channel at my disposal and a team of folks I’ve assembled, so I’m confident now about releasing an album and getting it out into the world.
BnR: Can you reveal any details of your upcoming tour for this album?
BnR: Speaking of “Milk Tooth”, was that your DIY modular synth at the beginning? Will that thing ever truly be finished?
RJD2: Modular synth—ha! No, it probably won’t ever be done, done. You could just keep going with that stuff, if time wasn’t finite. The synth on “Milk Tooth” is actually an ARP 2600.
BnR: From your Twitter, it looks like you’ve been traveling a lot lately. Find yourself in any interesting situations? Fave spots?
RJD2: Yeah, I’ve been traveling this year for gigs. I actually have found myself in some interesting situations, if not interesting places. I’ve had a rough go of transpo this year—I missed two set times, and have had some near misses. I had a 24-hour Philadelphia-Portland-Philadelphia trip that involved no sleep and a very long ride through the woods in a 70s El Camino. Some of these stories are really too long to put in an interview! My favorite spots right now are the ones that are direct flights. The northeast in the fall is beautiful, though. I’m looking forward to Maine next month.
BnR: I don’t think many people have talked to you about your personal style. I’ve seen you say you don’t obsess over style, but do you have anything in particular you’re excited to break out this fall?
BnR: Honest opinion about today’s party and commercial rap scene: has the rap game changed for the better, or for the worse?
RJD2: I think that there are some really interesting and great things happening in production, and you don’t have to scratch too far to find ’em. Kanye and Jay will always have a few album cuts with some insane beats. I think by and large, rap has continued to progress and elevate. The landscape of MC’s today has something for everyone. If you can’t find rap you like, you aren’t looking hard enough. The rap game is always changing, as it should—I can’t make a generalized call on whether it’s for a net better or worse.
BnR: Any parting words for the basement producers among our readers?