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Feature: RJD2 on collecting records and piecing together songs


Photo by Benny Mistak; words by Nikki Volpicelli

“I didn’t entirely get grandfathered into it,” says Philly sample swatch composer, RJD2. “My parents were music listeners, not collectors. Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, the Beatles around the house,” he goes on to list his youth in sounds.

 It wasn’t until he started buying his own vinyl, and then collecting his own vinyl, that he grew that collection into a full house of vinyl, stacks on stacks of different tracks to spin and eventually sample and mix. The records came first in the chicken or the egg situation, not the desire to be a career DJ, producer, composer.

“I had a catalyst,” says RJ (born Ramble John Krohn). “A friend of mine was selling a DJ setup—two turntables, a mixer, a bunch of records … I just wanted the records.” He was going to sell the rest, but “fell into it,” and started messing around with the idea and practice of putting it all together.

This was years ago, over a decade to be a little more exact. And with those hearty years of experience came plenty of his own records, with beastly electronic tracks that sampled well into the decades, from old bluesy guitar riffs to ’50s sock-rock and clips from audio sales manuals. Most recent being 2013’s More Is Than Isn’t, a full-length that is decidedly strayed from 2012’s The Abandoned Lullaby, which strayed from Inversions of Colossus (2010), and Deadringer (2009), and on and on, because…do you see a pattern? There is no pattern. When it comes to the style of his recordings, it’s a style that is in a constant state of flux.

Here’s why: the type of art that RJD2 makes is always based on the construction and deconstruction of others’ art, and that part makes it difficult to compartmentalize into a specific genre or type of sound. Perfect makings for a wild card, or as he says of it: 

“Music is subjective. My experience [creating] Deadringer was as good as I could do with the resources that were available at my disposal. And More Is Than Isn’t is the same.”

The resources he talks about are both technological and sample-related. RJ says of his ‘creation-from-a-collection’ process, “Once I’ve found source material, I see it as a component. I generally build…it takes seven to 10 to 15 [components] to make one song, once.”

In an interview with NPR, RJ goes into detail on how he managed to craft the single, “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request,” off More Is Than Isn’t using a variety of found sounds. He uses words like “kernels,” and “pieces,” phrases like “sounds taken apart” to explain the birth of the song. These words, seemingly nuggets of his general philosophy, could be built around the style of some of his earlier influences he was listening to while he “cut his teeth” on sample-based hip hop artists, like Pharcyde and DJ Premier.

“I have much more resources now—as a player, arranger, composer,” he says of his present-day situation. His insurmountable record collection. His collection of very different releases. “It’s what I want to do and what I want to be, so I work on it,” he says. — Nikki Volpicelli

RJD2 will play live at Union Transfer this Friday, February 21st; tickets are available here.

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