I first heard RJD2 my freshman year of high school. Back then I honestly thought he was one of the best Hip Hop producers I had ever heard. Not only was he supplying dope beats for the entire Eastern Conference movement, he was conceptually changing the way Hip Hop producers released instrumental albums. He was somewhere between DJ Shadow and DJ Premier, and that was something I liked about him. In fact, that’s what a lot of people liked about him. Somewhere along the lines though it seemed like RJ was tired of being categorized as just another rap producer, and he branched away from the lawsuit-ridden world of sampling to compose his own instrumentals for his last effort The Third Hand (2007). While I’m all for experimentation, many like myself felt that they had been led astray by the sought-after producer. RJ’s debut, Deadringer was universally praised by music critics and Hip Hop heads alike, and we not only heard a tremendous range of sampling, but we were introduced to some of Ohio’s finest lyricists. So now as listeners, we find ourselves at a crossroads in RJD2’s career; having left Def Jux to self-release The Colossus, RJ has complete creative control and doesn’t have to live up to any expectations that would limit the musical realms he can enter into. Thus we are presented with a well-rounded package of one man’s musical capabilities, but that’s not to say RJ’s without guests lending their support.
The Colossus opens with its first single, “Let There Be Horns.” You guessed it; the song is filled with a magnificent amount of horns accompanied by a smooth drum break and fitting synthesizers. Not only is this a stellar production from the Columbus-native, but the video that accompanied it is probably my favorite music video of the year so far. RJ follows up the instrumental with a more pop-oriented effort on “Game You Can Win” featuring Kenna. The cut is also similar to “The Shining Path” featuring Phonte which later appears on the album. Both are examples of RJD2 using a range of melody and harmony, although more minimalist in certain respects compared to his earlier works. Likewise, each track features guest male vocals which are somewhere between smooth jazz and pop. “Giant Squid” should take listeners on a trip back to 2002, as RJ unveils a guitar laced production that’s a must for any b-boy near a wood floor.
RJ sounds like he listened to Sgt. Peppers numerous times prior to recording “The Glow.” RJ lends his own extra eq’d vocals to the track which somewhat throws off the course of the album, but somehow remains fitting in this eclectic jumble of sounds that RJD2 throws at your eardrums. To put it plainly, listeners would be upset if this was placed on Deadringer, but if you heard this on a rock radio station you would find it acceptable. The same can be said for “Gypsy Caravan” which heavily relies on a classic rock sound and RJ’s high-pitched voice. You wouldn’t find RJD2’s moniker so unlikely if you heard “A Spaceship For Now.” The space-hop instrumental is a tremendous display of RJ’s production abilities to say the least. Oddly “Crumbs off the Table” featuring Aaron Livingston sounds like a mash-up between the previously heard “Giant Squid” and “The Shining Path.” The track features an excellent use of an electric guitar mixed to RJ’s perfection.
On a trippy instrumental that sounds inspired by water dripping, RJ brings in three Ohio lyricists. The Catalyst flows smoothly through “A Son’s Cycle.” The extra-lyrical Illogic proclaims, “the cycle is changing me, I’m no longer the same/just 93 million miles ahead of the game.” NP unveils a raspy and short verse, but it’s fitting for the production. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album, but then again I’m a fan of the man’s old work. RJ reverts back to the style of the opening track with some the melody of ’70s funk on “Tin Flowers,” which gives off some ill vibes. “Small Plans” demonstrates RJD2’s contribution to the electronica genre. Relying upon heavy synths and claps RJ cooks up an ironically laid back techno jam. This track is followed up by the classic RJD2 production on “The Stranger.” If you didn’t already know, RJ knows what he’s doing when it comes to drum breaks and this is further proof of it. The album closes with “Walk With Me” which once again utilizes RJD2’s self-made pop sound. This is actually the only track on the album that I’d advise you to stay away from. I understand that RJ wants to try something new and at times throughout the album I’ve appreciated it, but this sounds like it could be scrapped.
Once The Colossus concludes, it’s clear that RJD2’s musicianship has no boundaries. There is no musical genre off limit from the producer’s palate. RJ has had an incredible career thus far that has displayed his versatility; from the days of Ohio’s MHZ to being featured in the Mad Men intro, he has always been an innovator. There aren’t many notable artists willing to defy genres as RJD2, and for that he exemplifies what it means to truly be a producer. The Colossus is definitely a worthwhile album; it may not get the same support from the backpacker community as Deadringer, but this is the type of album that can expand a casual listener’s taste in music.
RJD2 “Let There Be Horns”