RJD2 Since We Last Spoke

[Definitive Jux; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: instrumental hip hop, sample-based found sound construction, downtempo
Others: Blockhead, The Automator, Madlib, El-P

Good Lord, this album is amazing. For the past few years, there have been a number of artists in the world of underground instrumental hip hop who completely took me by surprise: Broadway Project, Noon, Unagi, Express Rising, etc. But my exposure to Definitive Jux's master producer and DJ Rjd2 has been a welcome and unexpected pleasure, to be sure. Rjd2's first two long-players, Your Face or Your Kneecaps and Dead Ringer, were near-flawless releases that brought a measure of much needed life and vitality into the underground experimental hip hop genre.

Since We Last Spoke, Rjd2's newest release, is an extremely forward-thinking collection of tracks that are essentially cut-and-paste, found-sound sound collages. Slapping the "hip hop" label on this record almost sounds too dismissive to do the record any justice, but this is indeed a hip hop record which may just serve as a benchmark for the genre. Like the better artists who comprise the instrumental underground hip hop scene, Rjd2 possesses the uncanny ability to create songs out of samples, snippets, and found sounds that sound as if they were recorded in a studio, rather than via a stack of dusty records, a sampler, and a computer. It's easy to take these tracks at face value, but the work that must have gone into finding just the right samples for these pieces must have been unimaginable. The naysayers may once have had a legitimate complaint by bemoaning the rap/hip hop phenomenon as a bunch of rip-off artist hacks, but the true artists of the genre have certainly proven them wrong, particularly in the last few years, by demonstrating hip hop's validity as a sophisticated and powerful force in the world of contemporary music.

What makes Since We Last Spoke such an indisputably groundbreaking record is Rjd2's ability to create such an intricate pastiche of diverse musical styles that it seems like a wholly new genre in and of itself. There are a great deal of subtle (and not so subtle) twists and turns in this music as well. Rjd2's production technique, sampling skills, and composition (yes, composition: these pieces are complex enough that they deserve to be considered compositions) are top-notch. Furthermore, his record collection must be one vast vinyl archive. Bottom line: while many hip hop artists in the past several years have failed to live up to the promise and overblown hype generating by the success of their debut records, Rjd2's consistently strong catalogue has demonstrated that there is still a place for creativity, originality, and integrity in the genre. Mesmerizing.

1. Since We Last Spoke
2. Exotic Talk
3. 1976
4. Ring Finger
5. Making Days Longer
6. Someone's Second Kiss
7. To All of You
8. Clean Living
9. Iced Lightning
10. Intro
11. Through the Walls
12. One Day
13. De Lalouette
14. Holy Toledo

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