Since We Last Spoke
n order to promote RJD2’s impressive new album Since We Last Spoke, Hollertronix DJ Diplo created a 20 minute mix of RJD2 tracks for Definitive Jux. The highlight of this performance undoubtedly arrived when Diplo mixed Slick Rick’s classic “Mona Lisa” and RJ’s “Iced Lightning”. “Iced Lightning”’s ornate, interlocking synth melodies suggest ostentatious 70s prog-rock, but taken as a whole, the instrumental gave Slick Rick’s verse inspired dramatic weight. This instance exemplifies the strengths of RJ’s new album: using the postmodern sampling techniques of hip-hop to reconstruct 70s AM rock radio, RJD2 has created not just a great hip-hop album, but also one of the best rock albums of the year. Much in the way Pete Rock or Kanye West reinterpret classic 70s soul for a new generation, Since We Last Spoke is RJD2’s trip through the AM dial 30 years ago, the songs of the period experienced anew.
It’s RJ’s personal and original touch that makes this album interesting, and differentiates him from the other major hip-hop instrumentalist, DJ Shadow. While Shadow often samples single instrument lines and loops them into elongated passageways of dark, gloomy sound driven by primal drum breaks, RJ is primarily concerned with Big Sounds—horn blasts, distorted guitars and neck-snapping funk bass lines. Shadow’s music is a dark journey; while RJ makes pop songs with hooks, plaintive vocals (including RJ’s own, on “Making Days Longer”), and, on this album, all the accoutrements of rock music—bridges, codas, and guitar solos. Specifically, RJ creates a number of stylistic variations on the 70s radio rock formula, from the funk-rock anthem “1976” and the eardrum-ringing guitar crunch of the title track to the aforementioned prog histrionics of “Iced Lightning”. RJD2’s rhythmic sophistication, full of unexpected turns and sudden drum stutters, entirely redefines the sampled funk rhythms from the ground up. In true hip-hop fashion, turntable sonics—scratching and fader manipulation, for instance—become the driving force behind his sudden rhythmic punctuations and re-syncopations of sound.
After the relatively upbeat first half of the record, elegant and reflective ballads arrive midway through the album. On “Someone’s Second Kiss,” and “To All of You,” guitars ring above the sparse rhythmic accompaniment, echoing with clarity over the vinyl pop-and-hiss emptiness of the beat-digger’s negative sound, only to be rescued by a sudden vocal sample, a human presence in the void. When RJD2 produces, a simple guitar melody becomes the central, moving motif of an entirely new song.
The magnificent voyage down the AM dial climaxes with the new wave pop-rock of “Through the Walls”. Over a chugging Cars-esque guitar riff and Todd Rundgren-style melodic pianos, the exploding guitar chords and aching vocals convey one of rock music’s classic Universal Truths—“girl, I know you won’t come back/…/if it won’t work out what will I do?” Like a teenager locked in his bedroom, you plead along with the universal sentiment of love lost while windmilling furiously to the brash guitar chords, shout along with the David Lee Roth-like scream and fall to your knees playing air guitar to the angular solo that brings the whole experience to an end. It’s the type of song that’s enough to give a person faith in the “rock is back” headlines on music magazines.
The album concludes with “One Day,” a dreamy, enthralling clap-drum track that sweeps over your consciousness like a waterfall, enough to wash away the sweat from the air-guitar intensity of “Through the Walls”. And then RJD2 signs off, leaving you with a passionate memory of a time when you weren’t even alive. Since We Last Spoke: the future of collective nostalgia.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK – MAY 23 – MAY 29, 2004
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2004-05-24