Before you do a double take – sorry “Star Wars” geeks – R2D2 is not coming to the Starlight Ballroom. Rather, it’s RJD2, a beat maker and lyricist from West Philly known for his mishmash of genres and slick skills on the turntable.
At a RJD2 concert, don’t expect breathing room between tracks. Each song seamlessly transitions to the next, maintaining an incessant energy and flow throughout.
Ramble John Krohn, better known as “RJ,” can break it down on four turntables and for his upcoming show at the Starlight Ballroom on April 11; he’ll scratch with the help of a live band.
“It’s been a long time,” RJ said about playing with a band. “I’m going to have a drummer, and two other instrumentalists who do everything, but a whole lot better
than I do.”
The choice to bring along a few hired musicians comes from the sound he’s created in his latest record, “The Third Hand.”
“Hand” has some of the same elements
his previous work had, like tight rhythms and endless hooks, but something is lacking.
While his other two albums hit hard, mandating head-bobbing, “Hand” is a more invitational swaying from side-to-side record. It gets you in the groove, but the approach provides a newfound sense of energy.
RJ attributes this change to his inexperience playing instruments – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to learn.
“I have little experience playing instruments. I took a couple piano lessons and guitar lessons, but getting my chops up for the record took a lot of practice. I have a lot of room for growth,” he said. “I’m more vocal on this record than anything I’ve done before, but I didn’t box it into being a pop record. I’ve always tried to make songs that have pop arrangements; just working with samples, the approach and the means to get there are different.”
“The Third Hand” maintains RJ’s signature hip hop base, but with a greater pop emphasis than ever before. Think Gorillaz or Beck at their most urban.
By deciding to perform with a band and play everything on the record himself, RJ has taken a creative risk that fans may see as stubbornness to be unique for the sake of being different. But for RJ, originality is achieved with practice, and he’s willing to take the risk.
“The main reason was because I don’t know what I want until I hear it,” RJ said of the decision to play the instruments himself. “I wouldn’t be good at bringing in a bass player, and say ‘Lets start f–king around.’ I couldn’t tell him what’s wrong or right.
“From my perspective I’m just enjoying myself and having fun doing what’s exciting, musically speaking; keeping things interesting,” RJ said. “I sort of get bored easily. I find that for some reason I’m prone to trying out things even though I don’t know how to do it, or know what I’m doing.”
His new CD received mixed reviews despite his reputation as one of the best in his field, but RJ is relaxed as ever about his upcoming live performance on April 11 at the Starlight Ballroom. He experiments at his shows just like his music – and the result, whatever the opinion, is a carefree confidence with a fresh beat to match.
“It’s not really planned out right now, I have so much s–t to bring. I might scale it down to two [turntables]and a sampler,” RJ said. “It sounds more complicated than it really is. Because it’s planned out, we can have three turntables doing a routine and the fourth would be [the] start of [a] next routine. I’m very organized, and [the order to songs are] built around a song. Some of the songs or chunks might loop around, but basically there’s only one way to do it. That’s how I built it.”
Sounds like someone doesn’t mind practicing his instruments.
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.