RJD2's "The Third Hand"
RJD2 has been one of my favorite artists for a few years now. I discovered him when he was a part of MHz, and enjoyed the tracks he produced then. I really loved his first solo album, "Dead Ringer", and was equally impressed with "The Horror". RJD2 is one of those people who's CD I have to purchase, the data files just aren't enough. So I've been sure to keep up with what he's doing, and snag up a copy of whatever he's involved in. I liked his production on Aceyalone's "Magnificent City", and absolutely LOVED his work with Blueprint as Soul Position. RJ is just one of those rare artists who can turn anything he touches into gold. So when I saw him in concert back in January and he mentioned that he had a new album coming out, I was thrilled.
But then he said something that frightened me.
"Just give it a chance, it's a bit different."
When he said that (in a nervous voice), I became a bit nervous myself. DJ Shadow had recently broken his 10 year streak of stellar production when he put out his hyphy, crunky flop of an album "The Outsider". We all remember what happened to Metallica when they dropped a steaming "Load". Danzig tried to go pop-industrial (hah!), Ween hired professional session musicians to make a country album and Stone Temple Pilots flopped big when Scott Weiland attempted to kick the smack habit. Shit, even Vanilla Ice couldn't sell himself as hardcore punk. Let's face it, there aren't many well-established bands who can pull off a style change. Radiohead can do it, but they've made a career out of making every album sound completely different. There comes a point in everyone's career when a genre-shift just won't fly with the fans, and you'll either have to come back stronger than ever with a follow-up album, or hope to attract a new base.
So I was a bit trepidatious when I picked up RJD2's newest album "The Third Hand". I waited 3 or 4 days after buying it before I even took it out of the shrink-wrap. Shit, RJD2 is the last hip-hop DJ I can count on, and I really didn't want to see him destroy his style because he "didn't have the resources to clear so many minute samples." I understand the logic behind it, but still...
I finally got around to playing the disc, and to my surprise, I really liked it. It still has the funky, stuttering beats and breaks that RJD2 has use throughout his career, but the majority of the vocals on this disc are supplied by RJ himself. It's not as raw as his earlier work; in fact, I'd even call it a step towards R&B. Hell, who am I kidding? It's pop. He got sick of being compared to DJ Shadow and said "Fuck it, I'm going pop."
RJ has a very mellifluous voice that works with some of the tunes, and not so well with others. The lyrical content is almost laughable at times, and the falsetto voice becomes quite repetitive after 3 or 4 tracks. "The Third Hand" is really more of an expansion of his last album, "Since We Last Spoke". RJ still delivers on the beats, the brass and the bass, but his voice adds a touch of humanism that his earlier works didn't have. It's definitely not the same RJ from 5 years ago, but if you start playing the album with that in mind, it's much easier to digest.
If you're looking for songs like "Final Frontier", "Ghostwriter", "The Horror" or "Smoke & Mirrors", you won't find them here. But if you were a big fan of the latter portion of his previous release, you'll probably really dig "The Third Hand".
Now if only I could find an instrumental version of the album, I'd be happy.