RJD2 IS NOT A ROBOT, but he certainly acts as tireless as any droid. A few short years ago, the Columbus, Ohio, native was just a small fry in the underground hip-hop world, best known as the DJ-producer behind rappers Megahertz and Copywrite. But with the 2002 release of his debut full-length, the primarily instrumental Dead Ringer (on New York's Definitive Jux label), the kudos started rolling in. And so did the commitments.
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"Since the day my album came out, all I've thought about is either producing for other people or touring," RJ admits. In addition to dates on the road, the 26-year-old has turned out remixes for Massive Attack, Nightmares on Wax, and even the Polyphonic Spree (check out his Beverly Hills Cop-flavored overhaul of "Soldier Girl"), and produced cuts on forthcoming full-lengths from rappers Cage, Diverse, and Aceyalone. Despite his busy calendar, he also found time to relocate to Philadelphia and buy a house.
Now comes an odds 'n' sods set called The Horror. Kicking off with the eerie Dead Ringer cut of the same name, which lumbers out of the speakers like a '70s cop-show theme drunk on cough syrup, the budget-priced double disc includes one CD's worth of instrumentals and rarities (the soulful "Bus Stop Bitties," originally tucked away on the flip of the "Good Times Roll" single, is especially tasty), coupled with another stuffed with AV goodies, including animation, photo galleries, a making-of documentary about shooting the unnerving titular video (at an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium in upstate New York), and DJ sets from S.F. and N.Y.C.
What prompted this workaholic to add another project to his to-do list, when by all rights he should be putting his feet upor at least unpacking moving cratesfor a couple months? "It was strictly the money. I'm just chasing a dollar," he jokes. But seriously, folks. "I didn't want there to be a two-year lull between records, because I'm shooting for a May 2004 release for my next album. The goal was to provide people with a different experience for 10 bucks: two CDs, remixes, B-sides. Some people have already heard this stuff on the Internet, but the average CD buyer wouldn't have, because most of it was on B-sides of vinyl singles."
The Horror also features a cut that even listeners who missed Dead Ringer might recognize: the chugging "Ghostwriter," which subsequently popped up in a Saturn ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Unlike many contemporary electronic music peddlers, RJ actually wrestled with the ethics of pimping his art in service of a car commercial. "The guys at the label were pushing me, and I kept dragging my feet for months and months," says RJ, who drives a 1996 Toyota Corolla. "We had other offers on the table and could have made a lot more money elsewhere, but I felt like the Saturn [ad] was the classiest, and the most appropriate."
RJREAL NAME RJ KROHNcredits his Ohio upbringing for instilling him with drive and tenacity. "When you grow up in the Midwest, you instinctively have an underdog mentality, at least in terms of hip-hop. And that's good, because it gives you a good work ethic," he explains. Listing Columbus as his return address on packages didn't come with any stigmaor cachetattached to it. "It wasn't like being from L.A. or New York, where you automatically got the benefit of the doubt just because you were from there."
After listening to the solid song structures that underpin RJD2's tracks, it's not surprising to learn that his musical upbringing was more cosmopolitan than most kids. "My mom was a modern dancer, so she was listening to Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, and Laurie Andersonthat wave of early-'80s composers," he says. His father was also involved in dance and turned young RJ on to the electro sounds of Afrika Bambaataa and Twilight 22. "When break dancing became popular, with Beat Street and all that, he completely latched on to it. I inherited my 12-inch of Herbie Hancock's 'Rockit' from my dad."
Although RJ's keeping his plans for the next album under tight wraps (save to reveal it will be "very different and more action packed"), he's more forthcoming about what fans can expect to hear on his current tour. "I'm taking elements you would recognize from my album or things I produced for other people, but [putting] them in a different context." It's an undertaking that requires countless hours digging in the crates to unearth components that fit, rhythmically and harmonically, since RJ creates his set live, in real time, on four turntables, without the benefit of a sampler or ready-made mix CDs.
"I'm taking chances every nightall types of shit can happenbut hopefully people can appreciate that," he concludes. "It's a challenge, but it's fun." And in the hardworking world of RJD2, those two words are practically synonymous.