(Today's Reader Review is one that went missing in my inbox for whatever reason, resulting in a lag time that was much longer than usual. Apologies to John, who took the time to submit a write-up for RJD2's debut, Deadringer, and may now possibly be turned off from the entire submission process at this point. Regardless, here's John's short-and-sweet review; leave some comments for him below.)
Commonly considered the best work of Ohio raised producer/singer/musician RJD2, Deadringer is a sample-heavy tour de force comparable in both scope and quality to DJ Shadow's groundbreaking 1996 debut Endtroducing…, but with a bit more of that old jazz/funk party sound. (Before everyone starts complaining, let me stress that I said comparable, not equivalent.) It combines both superior sampling and mixing skills with a level of musicianship rarely seen in this post-millennial hip hop void.
RJD2 himself offers a short narrative on the second track, “Salud”: “This is the first record...I’ve made under my control entirely…some of the stuff I like very much, some of the stuff I quite like, and I don’t hate any of it.” Now I’m not inclined to argue with these words, delivered with an unexplained British accent (does everyone speak like this in Ohio?), but I’ve listened to my fair share of boring-as-fuck instrumental albums, so let’s hold off judgment, hit play, and see how it holds up today.
1. THE HORROR
Deadringer kicks off with some rumbling bass that quickly leads us right into music that sounds like it was taken from a 1930’s-era thriller (but is, in reality, from the 1970’s electronic pop group First Moog’s Quartet). A somewhat bizarre way to start things out, sure, but RJD2 tweaks the samples just right, throwing in a little Scooby-Doo, and we’re left with a cinematic track that’ll get stuck in your head for weeks.
Wouldn’t be a proper hip hop album without an intro. Albeit an intro which denies that this album has an intro.
3. SMOKE AND MIRRORS
RJD2 gets his straight-outta-Ohio soul on, mixing a deep, resonating vocal sample over some groovin’ drums which refuse to let you not feel the beat.
4. GOOD TIMES ROLL PT. 2
Another jam. This one tries its best to pick up the pace and get the audience moving. The beat hits you immediately, but then loses its focus and, in turn, your attention. Next track, please.
5. FINAL FRONTIER (FEAT. BLUEPRINT)
“My lifeline swerves kinda like a sine curve”. Well, at least the math majors among us will like this track (the first one on Deadringer to feature actual rhymes, courtesy of guest star Blueprint, also RJ's partner in the duo Soul Position), even if the rest use the four-and-a-half minute run time to take a nap.
For anyone who fell asleep during “Final Frontier”, the horns that smash into your eardrums during the chorus on “Ghostwriter” will wake you the fuck up. This song is fucking great. If you don’t listen to a single other track on the album, you need to hit this one up for sure. The smooth beat, crisp snares and whispering samples lead you into a montage of horn hits that could be the theme song to every good day you have from this point forward.
7. CUT OUT TO FL
Some more cinematic shit reminiscent of “The Horror”, but instead of a thriller, RJ hits us with some kind of circus scene, I guess?
8. F.H.H. (FEAT. JAKKI DA MOTAMOUTH)
9. SHOT IN THE DARK
This is a skit. It has a beat, but it's still a skit.
10. CHICKEN-BONE CIRCUIT
RJ immediately hits you in the face again, this time with some heavy-ass drums, which are all I really ever need. But this song just jams all around: smooth synth riffs in the back, mixed with subtle vocal samples and those damn thrashing drums allow for some raw insight into RJ’s true productions skills. Pretty nice.
11. THE PROXY
A short and interesting-enough groove, but one that leaves something to be desired.
12. 2 MORE DEAD
A little blues, a little funk, a little soul, a lot of entertainment. This is another track that shines, reminding us that instrumental hip hop does not need to be boring when done right.
13. TAKE THE PICTURE OFF
Short and sweet. I liked it alright, but I imagine it will grow old very quickly.
14. SILVER FOX
Not the most upbeat part of the album, but this fox did have some nice curves on her.
15. JUNE (FEAT. COPYWRITE)
For most of this album we’ve seen either a beat that kicks us in the face, making our head bob with pure musical enjoyment, or we’ve seen a track that just sort-of drifts around until eventually fading out. But here we get something completely fresh: it’s like DJ Shadow’s “Midnight in a Perfect World”, but with even more emotion and two heartfelt verses laid down by guest star Copywrite (a little known MC who also hails from Ohio). This song is just always on point.
A pretty decent groove, although after the high that was “June”, this can't help but be a bit of a letdown.
After “Work”, Deadringer segues into the following hidden track (on first pressings, anyway: I learned that Definitive Jux, RJD2's record label at the time, was forced to scrap the following track on later reissues due to sample clearance problems).
HERE'S WHAT'S LEFT
Just when we think RJ’s going to leave us hanging, the hidden “Here’s What’s Left” track pops up, and we are again reminded of why we bothered to listen to Deadringer in the first place. A beautiful riff combined with those D2 drums leaves us relaxed and satisfied on our way out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: If you dig instrumentals and loved the thumping beats of DJ Shadow, then you’ll probably like RJD2's Deadringer too, even if it may be preferable to think of this as a great supplement to your collection rather than as another crowning jewel. RJD2 provides us with more than enough proof that he is one of best out there in terms of both sampling and production skills, as well as pure musicianship. There are some slow parts on Deadringer, but since they are interwoven among shit as hot as “Ghostwriter” and “June”, I would still push aside all of that other shit on the radio these days in favor of this.
BUY OR BURN? Definitely a buy.
BEST TRACKS: “Ghostwriter”; “Chicken-Bone Circuit”; “June”; “Here's What's Left”; “2 More Dead”
(Questions? Comments? I have no answers, but you can leave your thoughts below anyway. Also, I'm aware that the link below is for the "deluxe" edition of Deadringer, released through RJ's own record label after he left Definitive Jux. I just couldn't ignore that price.)