Basement studio gives creative freedom

Jinae West

Skaters love him. Critics praise him. And the mainstream media have no idea who he is.

While he may elude grocery-store tabloids and morning interviews with well-groomed anchors, Rjd2 is an underground legend in the making. Like an artist with a blank canvas and a palette rich with oil paints, RJ mixes and matches sample-based beats to create genre-dizzying compositions – tracks that reveal surprisingly evocative movement beneath a gritty outer shell.

The 30-year-old began his career as a disc jockey in Columbus before breaking out with his acclaimed debut, Dead Ringer, in 2002. Reviews raved RJ’s engaging range of complexity, repeatedly making comparisons to the likes of DJ Shadow and Moby.


Where? The Grog Shop

When? Thursday, April 19, 9p.m.

How much? $15

The Third Hand marks RJ’s third album and a move from independent, street-level hip-hop to live instrumental pop rock. RJ said he wanted to separate himself from using samples, as he “didn’t see a point in making the same record over and over.”

“There were a number of reasons,” he said. “One was the legal ramifications, and it was also limiting from a creative standpoint. It got very difficult to make records. Since We Last Spoke just got very exhausting. I had to use more new pieces of sound and get more specific of what I could use.”

RJ said he ordinarily approaches his work with habitual ease and enthusiasm, letting things fall freely into place.

“It just kind of happens,” he said. “I mean, recording is just an obsession for me. And I guess recording and the experimentation that comes along with it subsequently becomes natural.”

For an artist who continues to defy genre barriers, experimentation is key. RJ records in his basement studio, which he said allows more freedom to bounce ideas and explore styles.

“I do my best work when I’m by myself in a studio,” he said, “in a scenario where I can try any crazy idea and take a step back and see what works, what doesn’t. I don’t use a ‘professional studio’ because it’s not conducive to those kinds of things, and other people are around. It’s not as footloose and fancy-free when you’re paying big money. In my studio, you’ve got all the time in the world, and you’ll try anything.”

And RJ does just that. In The Third Hand, he adds a new element to his slightly ambiguous arrangements – his voice.

“(Singing) was definitely the hardest part,” he said, “and hearing your own voice is weird at first. But once I got to a point where I was kind of comfortable singing on record, it just became a tool to lean on. From my perspective, it’s another instrument to the song.”

Besides recording in his home-based studio, RJ acts as his own manager, cutting out the middleman to deal with the details directly.

“For people like me, it makes sense,” he said. “I’m not a band you know? It makes sense to have (a manager) if you’re a band, and there are a number of people you need to condense opinions and ideas. But for me, I have a hard time trusting people. That’s just how I am, and it seemed senseless to me.”

Although he enjoys the extra responsibility, RJ wishes he had a manager’s connections.

“I can reply to an e-mail to a manager who will reply to the person I need to talk to when I could just reply to the person I need to talk to,” he explained.

RJ said his attitude toward his career wavers from day to day, a tug-of-war between contentment and realization.

“There are days I wake up, and I don’t want to do music anymore,” he said. “I don’t give a shit, and I treat it like a job. And then there are times I feel the exact opposite. I’m thrilled not to wear a tie and am able to do whatever I want all day. And sometimes, I don’t want to do shows. But then I’ll take shows and be out on tour, and a kid comes up to you and tells you how much he loves this record or that record and loves the show.”

Still, the masses are more likely to associate Rjd2 with a walking-talking hunk of metal than an underground up-and-comer spinning turntables despite his fair share of success and critical acclaim.

“It happens a lot when you’re talking to a girlfriend’s uncle who is only vaguely familiar (with me),” RJ said. “It’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, the guy from Star Wars.'”

Contact ALL correspondent Jinae West at [email protected].