With Busdriver and Happy Chichester
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Wednesday, March 21, 9:30 p.m.
"The Horror," the opening track from RJD2's 2002 debut Deadringer, was a herald: Big, howling horns and clanging, dancing drums announced the second coming of the sampling savior, a skinny white kid from Philadelphia. Critics said RJD2 was the next DJ Shadow, and people believed it. But RJD2 never wanted to be anyone's successor. He got restless and branched out. 2004's Since We Last Spoke touched on his metal influences and moved more toward soundscapes than his previously big beats and sampled bombast.
Still, he wasn't satisfied: The cut-and-paste confines of sampling weren't letting RJD2 grow, and he began to look back on those albums with a hint of disdain. To him, they were products of production-savvy immaturity. "From a sound quality perspective, those first records kinda sounded like shit," he says. "They were primitive, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy I did those records. I'm very proud of Deadringer musically, or the way it was mixed."
Enter The Third Hand, RJD2's third album. He's left his home of two records—the independent hip-hop label Definitive Jux—and joined the ranks of the indie rock-oriented XL (Devendra Banhart, Thom Yorke, The Raconteurs). And, on The Third Hand, he plays electric piano, analog synthesizer, guitars and drums. He even sings. Effectively, he has become his own sample batch.
"I understand why this record wouldn't sound like a hip-hop record to anybody," he says. "Some of the grooves and the beats and stuff aren't close to what anybody would expect, but I just got to the point where I didn't care about how the record would be classified."
Certainly, elements of his old records peak through on The Third Hand. The drums, for instance, are cut from the same cloth, and songs like "The Bad Penny" and "Beyond the Beyond" fit within his collective vintage-funk vibe. But on the whole, the album is a transition: The vocal takes are all timid coos and hyper-produced electronic blips. If Deadringer was an arrival with a bang, this is a departure with reservations.
Indeed, RJD2 acknowledges that his brand new bag may not be for everyone: "I understand that this record is not for everybody. But what I can't understand is that attitude of, 'I expected you to do this, so you should just do the same thing.'"