Typically before interviewing an artist, I get tense. They frequently miss our scheduled interview time. They’re usually in the van, by the side of the road. Their answers can be fairly canned. One time, a musician owned up to his “bad boy” rep by hanging up on me. Creatives can be loose cannons. We know this.
Which brings me to this: RJ, of RJD2, was one of the kindest, most thoughtful artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. This guy has seen consistent, colossal success over the past twenty years. His cut-and-paste hip-hop has been used heavily within the media world, notably “Beautiful Mine” in the intro for AMC’s Mad Men. He’s an all around stand-up dude that has collaborated with some heavy hitters (Aesop Rock, Mos Def, El-P). Go see him this Friday and Saturday, at the Bluebird.
Where are you currently?
What’s your year been like? What have you been working on?
Um, well. I put out a record in October of 2013 and I’ve been doing spot dates here and there. I’ve been being a dad. Kind of the big thing, on my plate. When you put together managing a household, a recording career, a touring career, being a dad, running a label, and publishing, and liscensing- yeah it adds up!
Do you ever sleep?
Um, yeah. I sleep. I don’t really have time, unfortunately, to do much socializing. I mean, I’ve got video games that I’ve bought a year and a half ago or two years ago that are still in shrink wrap (laughs). That’s the way it goes.
What’s a typical day for you?
Wake up around 6:30…the first two to three hours of my day is emails and “dad stuff”…breakfast, feed animals, so on and so forth. On the weekends I’m gone, on a gig, usually. On the weekdays, since I’m working from home, I try to do a 10 am- 4pm workday…I’m kind of on call to be a “pinch hitter” for my son…I actually haven’t been on a proper tour since he was born. It’s so fun and rewarding and they grow up so rapidly…if I was gone for weeks, there would be so much I would miss.
What to you, defines making good music?
If I had a mission statement when it comes to music…or if there’s one sort of overarching goal that I’m shooting for…the thing I’m working constantly against is boredom. That’s the metric by which I measure everything I do and every second of every song. Particularly with instrumental music….the failure with instrumental music, at least for me, is that…the songs that don’t captivate your attention at the three minute mark the way they do at the ten second mark..that’s the thing that I’m constantly working against. The process is really kind of centered around finding a thing that is immediately exciting to listen to…that first moment and trying to retain that interest to the ear throughout the course of a three minute song.
How long does it take for you to know if the start of a song will “work” or not?
Usually there’s some reference points that other people have given me, that I find really important…Barry Gordy had a quote about choosing songs from Motown and his metric was he said “the song had to grab you and hold you in the first ten to fifteen seconds,” so that’s a thing that’s always in my mind. That first fifteen seconds is critically important…there was the group in the 90’s, and the 2000’s, called The Beatnuts…they described the way in which they choose the beats which were keepers for them by making a beat and turning the machine off.
They would come back to it and the second time hearing it- that would be the moment in which they would decide, right then and there whether it was a keeper or not. I basically do this same thing. Part of the reason, is that there’s a “thing” that happens in that moment. That very first initial listen, after creating something. It’s kind of that most ideal moment, if you will. Because, you haven’t acclimated to something. It’s easy to listen to a song over and over and through repetition, you start to like it. And it’s also easy to be enamored with something that you made while you’re making it- just because you’re in that creative side of the piece. So the first listen, is kind of like the sweet spot…you’ll be making a beat and you’ll think it’s great, but it sucks. Is that making sense? Really that first listen back is the ideal time.
Currently listening to?
Kinda all over the place. Kinda depends on genre. In terms of vocal, melodic music- there’s a group called The Stepkids…in terms of rappers, I like Action Bronson…always listening to older music. Lots of jazz and soul music and 70’s.
You’ve worked with a number of people. Who have you enjoyed collaborated with, the most?
Um…pretty much everybody that I’ve worked with…it’s hard for me to say what I enjoy. I can’t say if I enjoy anything “most,” and if I did enjoy it- it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the thing that I got the most out of…but with that said, working with Aaron from Iceberg…he’s kind of the perfect counterpart for my skillset.
What do you think you would do if you weren’t a musician?
Um…I’m really into woodworking but not necessarily something I’d want to do as a job…this is going to be a boring answer but I think that there’s some sort of managerial role is likely a thing that would’ve been something I would’ve fallen into.
Super excited for you to come to Denver for two nights. Thanks for your time.
Yeah of course! Take care.
Make sure to catch RJD2 this Friday and Saturday at the Bluebird. Tickets are $22 ahead and $25 day of show. Grab them here.