Its 2007, and as usual, popular music finds itself stagnant. A cadre of important records slated to change the game forever join queue alongside a frequently replenished fresh faced roster of newcomers poised to champion new sounds and take their spoils. Purists in each camp decry the newcomers, citing the respective death of each genre and yearning for the days of yore, when records were judged by their innate qualities alone and not the amount of blog buzz garnered on the hot new band of the day. What’s to be done about the current state of things? Don’t ask RJ. He’s been in the basement.
Before delving into “The Third Hand,” its important to note the many accolades attached to RJ. Catapulted to notoriety, fame, and uber-serious hip-hop credibility with 2002’s Dead Ringer LP, 30-year-old Philadelphia resident and multi-instrumentalist RJD2 has enjoyed a thoroughly prolific career, following that debut album with 2004’s critically acclaimed Since We Last Spoke. In the last year alone, RJ produced records for his group Soul Position and Aceyalone, wrote scores for video games and DVDs, in addition to various remixes for artists such as Astrud Gilberto.
For The Third Hand, RJD2 seemingly abandons all the notions and titles that have been placed upon him over the past six years. Underground hip-hop super-producer to many, virtuoso sample-based instrumental wizard to some, RJD2 embodies all of these things on “The Third Hand” but placates none who seek more of the same. Recorded, performed, arranged, and produced entirely himself in his basement studio, RJD2 commands his trusty MPC 2000XL sampler/sequencer alongside a pantheon of analog synths, electric pianos and guitars, not to mention his own voice. Most notably, live instruments come in to play – RJ adds another dimension to his music, no longer satisfied with recording directly off of a sampler.
The result is a cohesive pop album in the most classic sense, a sound more akin to Phoenix than, say, Prefuse 73. In essence, this is RJD2’s entrance into the pantheon of enigmatic songwriter/producers (see Jon Brion, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder) capable of creating a record so full of rich songwriting, complex arrangement, and clever production that they transcend genre distinction and warrant an intent listen every time. The current state of music? As long as RJD2 keeps refining the sound of today with records like The Third Hand, we should be just fine.