Ramble John Krohn, the artist known to the world as RJD2, started his auspicious career in modern hip hop in the early-90's after scoring a pair of turntables off a friend. Fans came to love his fresh razor wire techniques and worshipped at the altar of his spacey cityscape beats. There was a moonless yet lustrous beauty to them, as if the listener could plunge comfortably into a not-so-warm womb that resided within the thump of each Metropolitan number.
It was a wall of sound that contributed something signature to an ever-languishing genre. In the years after "The Chronic" and "Fear of a Black Planet," at a time when everything seemed to be heading in the Whoomp-There-It-Is-Will-Smith-Galaxy-Defender-Ice-Ice-Bullshit direction, RJ and similar artists were there to consistently produce amazing records rich with solid compositions and crazy rhyme schemes.
For this reason it no doubt came as a surprise to his loyal acolytes when RJ dropped from Definitive Jux and announced that he was heading for "a more pop route."
I hooked up with RJ to set the record straight and find out exactly why he's crowing like Chris Martin on the Internet.
Naturally my first question concerned his route to pop. "I've always taken the approach of trying to give my songs a popular leaning," he said. "To me it means making music with the intent of it being pleasurable, not intentionally jarring or unpleasant.
"Whether it's an instrumental, one with a vocal sample or one with live vocals, I've always tried to have things like verses, choruses, chord changes, bridges- the things that keep a song interesting to me. That's what I mean when I use the word 'pop.'"
I was aghast! How can he be heading in a more "pop" route if this has been something he has done throughout his entire career? I decided to humor him by asking how the path has been treating him.
"The path has gotten me to where I am now," he said. "So I can't complain. Life is good. I can't speak for tomorrow, unfortunately."
Again, it wasn't adding up. How could a brand new path be responsible for getting him to that brand new path? His 2003 EP The Horror was blasting on a boombox behind me, adding more confusion to the mix. Perhaps a lyrical allusion to his new album will help things along.
“Why did you buy two pairs of shoes for one weekend?"
"She did," he said. "Not me. I think you know why women buy shoes, right?"
I wished we had more time because obviously Ramble J. knew something about women's sole intent that I was oblivious to. What an enigma!
"Do you play a lot of baseball or football?" I asked.
"No. I don't do anything related to exercise, other than cut wood, build shit, nail shit, staple shit, varnish shit." You see where this is going.
Indeed, I did. RJD2 is a carpenter. Like Jesus! But if he's not into sports why did he loan his song "Schoolyard Scrimmage" to the NBA 2K6? Why?!
"I'm a sucker for video games," he reasoned. "I played the 2K3 a lot."
And finally, the burning question: "What was wrong with Def Jux?"
"Nothing," he said. "I felt a need to put myself in a position to succeed doing the kind of music I'm passionate about. XL [Records, his new label] seemed like a place I could do that better. It had nothing to do with Jux."
I was curious what his rapper friends thought of The Third Hand [his new LP]. "Blueprint is the only rapper that's heard it. He said he loves it."
"On your My Space you list Midway, Nintendo and Capcom as your influences. Do you think gamers want to hear songs like 'You Never Had It So Good?'"
"No idea," RJ replied. "I don't make music with a particular person in mind. I do what sounds best to my ears and, hopefully, some people appreciate it. I'm just tryin' to do me, player. I have no intention of chasing another acts' carrots, just mine."
"You grew up in Columbus. Does anybody like you in Ohio?"
"I think a few folks are aware of what I do there. 'Does anybody like me in Ohio?' This is turning out to be a slightly bizarre interview, eh?"
RJD2 was right so I tried to wrap things up. "What kind of deal have you signed with XL Records?"
"I have this very special, very new kind of record deal where they agree to release my music in exchange for America Online Trial CDs. So far it has proven to be very lucrative."
It was clear that my favorite maestro of magnificent city instrumentals was having a go with me so I responded accordingly.
"Where do you want it? In your face or in your kneecaps?"
"You can tell it to both."