Music

Rjd2: The Horror

Dave Heaton

RJD2

The Horror

Label: Definitive Jux
US Release Date: 2003-04-22
UK Release Date: 2003-04-21
Amazon
iTunes

The cover to Rjd2's Deadringer album depicted a scene straight out of an apocalyptic slasher film, with RJ himself laying in the desert covered with blood. Yet the only track on the album that contained a horror-movie vibe to match this image was the lead-off track, "The Horror". With an over-the-top synth theme and vocal clips from what seems like a '50s monster movie, the song sets wicked beats with an half-creepy, half-cheesy vibe. So it's fitting that The Horror, a two-CD mini-album featuring the Deadringer version of "The Horror", nine other tracks and a disc's worth of CD-ROM bonuses, would have equally frightful cover art, with a bearded, strange-looking man peering through the cut-out letters of the word "Horror", plus titles in a blood-splattered font and inside-cover photos of a murder scene. But just as the horror theme disappears from Deadringer by track two, the same happens here, for The Horror is essentially a companion piece to Deadringer, more of the same to hold off fans until the next album.

Rjd2's forte is carefully building fresh, captivating music from pieces of the past. This, of course, is the foundation of hip-hop; yet RJ is especially careful not to make the sources of his materials too obvious, and casts his net further outside the frame of traditional hip-hop than you might expect, including electronic, jazz and soul sounds. Old-school soul is an especially prevalent part of his sound, yet the way he works disparate elements together makes even the oldest sounds new.

The nine other tracks on The Horror's first disc are different versions of songs from Deadringer plus a couple b-sides. Most of these songs have appeared previously, but on 12-inch singles that only the most die-hard, vinyl-addicted of his fans are likely to have. Five of the songs were on Deadringer in different form. The "Ghostwriter" remix takes what was perhaps the sharpest track on the album, beat-wise particularly, and mellows it out a bit by turning the emphasis away from the funky drums and toward a space-funk guitar and the horn-laden hook. The "June" remix tackles the deepest of the album tracks that featured an MC rhyming. The original saw Copywrite reflecting both on his hip-hop career and, even more notably, on the death of his father over a haunting track built around two guitars--a delicate acoustic and a harsh electric. The remix is even more haunting, as it opens with silence and an electric wind and then slowly eases into the song's melody and beats. Its starker setting makes the lyrics even more moving; the guitars are gone, replaced by a weirder backwards electric guitar. The song is shorter, more compact (a radio edit, perhaps?), and in general more minimalist. But then right after Copywrite drops his most serious line, about how his dad died the same month he was born ("each month I celebrate my birth I'm reminded of your death"), RJ builds up a flurry of jazz percussion, beautifully accentuating his point.

The last of the three remixes is one for the real heads and scenesters: "Final Frontier", originally with Blueprint on the mic, now also has Murs, Vast Aire (of Cannibal Ox), and Aesop Rock. The original was Blueprint calling out wack MCs and establishing his presence. The remix has a more aggressive tone all around, with more of a "We've got this scene locked down" sort of message.

The five instrumentals perfectly capture why Deadringer ended up on so many "best of 2002" lists, mine included. Instrumental versions of album tracks "F.H.H." and "Final Frontier" show melodies and moods that weren't as obvious on the album versions. The instrumental version of the b-side "Counseling" and "Good Times Roll Pt. 1" (a prequel to Deadringer's "Good Times Roll Pt. 2") are both energetic party tracks that show off Rjd2's ability to rock the house. And the B-sides "Bus Stop Bitties" and "Sell the World," which sound like obvious Deadringer outtakes, are two more good examples of how concisely and adeptly he builds together varied sounds to make something fresh. "Bus Stop Bitties" sounds like a classic funk track updated, with flute and someone singing about soul food but also a future-style synthesizer-driven groove. "Sell the World" is like a slightly weirder cousin of some of the Deadringer tracks, with funky piano and drums but also truly odd singing which sounds like it was recorded backwards and played forwards a la Twin Peaks.

Disc two is one of the better collections of CD-ROM extras I've seen come with a CD. There's two short segments of live footage which give a fair impression of what it'd be like to see Rjd2 live while also cutting in interview clips that show how seriously he takes innovation and how down to earth he is about it. There's also a short about the making of "The Horror" music video (though curiously not the video itself) and a wild but brief animated film that sets "The Horror" to a roughly drawn surrealist cartoon. With these extras, it's obvious that The Horror is directed toward Rjd2 fans, yet the way the CD booklet includes critics' quotes about Deadringer makes you also wonder if it's meant to promote that album as well as supplement it. Either scenario isn't a bad plan, as even the presumably lesser Rjd2 tracks, like remixes or B-sides, are amazing.

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