We caught up with RJD2 after one of his fantastic live shows. Appearing solo behind a long strand of decks, samplers and a laptop, RJ kicked off with A Beautiful Mine, the track that's also the theme for the insanely popular TV show Mad Men.
We spoke to him about this track, and a whole lot more besides...
Is the reason you move about so much on stage because you want to keep your performance energy high or because you've got so much gear that you've got to manage?
"It's because I'm busy up there. This kind of show, which took a lot longer to evolve, was born from your traditional DJ set. Then I added the sampler, but I realised that four turntables would let me set up one DJ routine while the other one was going on.
"Before Serato came along I had to press up vinyl for the shows. But dub plates don't actually sound as good as high quality WAV fi les. So for this last record, I was already using Serato, so that's how the computer got involved, which I can also set up as a kind of a rudimentary sampler."
Take us through what's up there with you.
"From left to right: my laptop running Serato, then a Korg padKontrol that's programmed to work like an MPC sampler. Then it's turntable, mixer, turntable and then another turntable, mixer, turntable. The last thing is the video camera.
"Everything gets submixed into the right-most turntable rig. I can turn off everything from that mixer because it's got auxiliary inputs for everything. The left-most DJ rig I'll use to switch back and forth from vinyl to Serato."
Why not have two Serato rigs?
"I could use two but there are so many routines that are worked out with vinyl that I know that if I pull out a record, cue it up, and put the pitch down to minus six and roll off the low end that that is going to be exactly in key with this other record. So a lot of it comes from the fact that I rehearse these things."
In the past, some critics haven't been too kind about the singer/songwriter side of your work. How has this affected your output, if at all?
"That aspect of it kind of got blown out of proportion. I really try not to let reviews and journalism have any influence on anything I wind up doing on a record. The terms in which I think of these things are more along the lines of 'am I going to play drums on a song or program the drums? Am I going to be singing on a song or am I going to look for a vocal sample or hire someone out?'
"This is the way that I tend to think about my music. People talk to me sometimes like I'm putting on different Halloween costumes or something and for me that's not accurate. For me it's more like multiple shades of grey."
Can you talk a little about how A Beautiful Mine was conceived?
"There's really not a lot that's too interesting about how it came to be. I think the story about how it got licensed might actually be more interesting than how it was made [laughs]. That record came from an album I did with Aceyalone. We had been talking about it and talking about it and it got to that dangerous point where he said 'we either have to start this now or we're not doing it at all'. And we did it, and I basically went off and made a bunch of tracks and he picked things that he liked and wanted. And I would say that the A Beautiful Mine track among other things on that record came about because it was the only time in my life where I could completely let my hair down.
"Acey was like 'Listen man, I want you to pick how this record sounds' and I'd never been in the driver's seat when producing a rap record – I've always been at mercy of the tracks a rapper chose. So if I had been working with someone else, I might have done that A Beautiful Mine track but it probably would have died a slow death."
Can you give us one production tip that you think is invaluable?
"If you want to get micro-technical, one of the biggest über tips that I could give your readers if they're diligent about it, could be worth its weight in gold. If you truncate a drum sound when you're sampling one shots, don't truncate it to the exact point of attack. Don't ever, ever, ever cut that space off. You should always leave yourself somewhere between 2000 to 4000 samples before the transient begins. Silence, basically.
"Then I run the start point up to the transient because you want that sound to be immediately triggered, but the thing is when you get into duplicating a sound like that or changing the feel, it can become enormously beneficial to keep that bit of silence. That extra space can give you the drunken J Dilla feel to it. You can do that by running the start time of the hi-hat and leave the kick and the snare the way they are. It'll just push the sound of the hi-hat out.
"And you can do that with any drum hit, and I find it very easy to do that to varying degrees. Plus if you were doubling up a kick and then running the pitch down four half steps, by moving it around a little you can also avoid phase issues. It's a simple method that people seem to miss."