RJD2 might just be the most talented hip-hop producer you haven't heard of. Until now, the Columbus, Ohio, turntablist had only a couple of singles to his name, but Deadringer announces his arrival as a major talent behind the mixing desk, while recent tours with his label boss El-P and celebrated producer DJ Shadow have confirmed his skills on the decks. There are those who see RJD2 as a dead ringer for Shadow. Like his West Coast counterpart, RJD2 samples long, knotted phrases from funk, rock and techno, fusing these fragments into complex assemblages with the drama of a symphony conductor and the grace of a professional dancer. But RJ, as his friends call him, deserves to step out of his predecessor's, er, shadow. Compared with the Shadow's cinematic epics, RJD2's tunes have a rawness and intensity quivering in the grooves.
Just listen to "Let the Good Times Roll," one of Deadringer's singles. At first, it can be hard to tell whether the number's '60s-inspired piano chords, cymbal-heavy breaks and overdriven horn and vocal lines are the product of a long-lost R&B combo or a particularly deft editor. It's only when the track breaks down into a blizzard of scratches and a poppin' electro drum pattern that its underpinnings become clear. The cohesion that gives the song its illusionist oomph is intentional: RJD2 has said that instead of pairing asynchronous sound sources the way so many kitsch-leaning producers do, he's interested in working exclusively within a given time period. The result is less pastiche than genetic reconstruction.
Deadringer is primarily instrumental, although indie MCs Blueprint, Jakki and Copywrite all make appearances. The latter's "June," released last year as a single, is one of the record's highlights, with Copywrite spitting a high-pitched rant against the travails of independent artistry as RJD2 rubs down a rollicking break with feathered flamenco guitars and cool Hammond organs. In the hands of a lesser producer the amalgam might feel forced, but sprung from RJD2's sampler, it's as natural as the acoustic riff it cops. Turns out RJD2's a dead ringer for no one--and in a genre based on reproductions of reproductions, that's saying something.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.