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RJD2: Deadringer (Definitive Jux)

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Where other DJs have sometimes felt like obnoxious houseguests on their own records, RJ doesn’t need to smack you over the head with turntable skills to remind you of his presence.

One can arrive at Deadringer, the ambitious debut release from Definitive Jux affiliate RJD2, from one of two directions. The first is to take Moby’s Play, and somehow suck out from it all the inspirational, video highlight reel, fraternity brother, and soccer mom elements. The other is to start with DJ Shadow’s recent Private Press, and substitute hip-hop into every place that he verges toward drum and bass. Either way, the destination is a widely accessible (considering other offerings from Definitive Jux) and masterfully crafted example of how effective instrumental hip-hop albums can be without losing touch of the music’s roots.

Despite the morbidity of the cover shot, Deadringer is overwhelmingly upbeat. “Good Times Part II” begins with a celebratory call and response, segues into a multitextured layering of blues vocals and funky horns, and climaxes with what amounts to a powerful reminder that few musical devices are as rousing as a well-scratched “Yeah” over a dope drum break. On “2 More Dead,” RJD2 creates a sort of musical timeline, combining elements of black gospel and folk music with a 1970s-style string sample, and finally a modern scratch sequence. Throughout the album, his scratching is a definite presence without being overbearing. Where other DJs have sometimes felt like obnoxious houseguests on their own records, RJ doesn’t need to smack you over the head with turntable skills to remind you of his presence.

Maybe Blueprint, delivering a surprisingly sedate guest verse on “Final Frontier,” best summarizes the reason behind RJ’s success when he says, “the ass of my art form is always exposed.” RJD2’s not afraid to reveal the grimiest, roughest, and least polished nuances of his sound. The difference between RJ and Moby is the difference between a regimented, Stalinistic military march and a limber, arm-swinging meander. One requires fine-tuning and tightening to ensure structural precision, while the other comes naturally, freely, and without perceivable effort.

By no means is that to say that Deadringer is without form. To do so seriously undermines all that RJD2 has accomplished on this remarkable first effort. Tracks like “Ghostwriter” and “The Proxy” are more ethereal and ambient in their effect, and “Work” is clearly the most amorphous song of the album, but never does RJD2 become so enraptured by his own creativity that he loses sight of his goal. And for that, we should all say thank you.

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