RJD2 with Kenan Bell and Happy Chichester
10 p.m. Thu., Feb. 11
Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477; www.tipitinas.com
It was really easy to make," says Ramble John Krohn, aka RJD2. Not January LP The Colossus, his fifth release and first on his nascent label, RJ's Electrical Connections; that was even more difficult than he expected. The cinch was his first stab at seafood gumbo, a process he documented on Twitter in between giveaways and teasers of the new album.
"It was the first time I'd ever made a soup," says the DJ/singer/songwriter and self-professed foodie, whose inspiration came during his last trip to New Orleans, for Tulane's Crawfest in April 2009. ("It was great," he says of the gig. "Lots of crawfish, obviously.")
Krohn's curiosity in the kitchen is mirrored by his fearlessness in the studio. A former turntablist for the Columbus, Ohio, rap crew MHz, he helped put New York City's Definitive Jux imprint on the map with his 2002 debut, Deadringer. The record's seamless mosaic of rock and soul samples grew to be a landmark of instrumental hip-hop, placing RJD2's tracks in advertisements for everything from professional basketball to pharmaceutical companies. "A Beautiful Mine," a slinky 2006 piece built with strings and beats, later was selected to score the opening credits to AMC's hit series Mad Men.
"It was a bullshit network," Krohn says of the time the decision to license the song was made. "We didn't have any expectations of how it was going to do. If anything, I thought, 'This is going to run for six months and get canceled.' ... It's definitely a trip. It's not anything I ever expected."
The unexpected became commonplace for RJD2. In 2007, Krohn left Definitive Jux for the British dance label XL and issued The Third Hand, a sample-free detour into smooth-groove singer/songwriter territory that sent much of his fan base into a tizzy. "I really didn't know that people were so emotionally invested in me doing this one particular kind of thing," he says, recalling Queen's 1986 concert film at England's Wembley Stadium: "Freddie Mercury says something like, 'This is just a record. Don't take it too seriously.' Then they play 'Another One Bites the Dust.' It's an image that I find very relevant when I think about my experience with that.
"I knew that it was going to be a curveball. What I didn't realize was that people were going to take it almost personally."
Nevertheless, Krohn says backlash had nothing to do with the direction taken on The Colossus, which is split between original and sampled material. Released on the heels of the RJD2 compilation 2002-2010, the 14 tracks function as a career retrospective themselves. Some hearken back to Deadringer; opener "There Will Be Horns" summons the energy of that album's ferocious opener "The Horror," and the sinister "A Son's Cycle" (with rappers the Catalyst and Illogic) is vintage Definitive Jux.
Others, like first single "Games You Can Win" (featuring vocals by soul singer Kenna), sound more comfortable with the increasing R&B influence. "I feel like, by and large, there isn't any skill in finding a [sample], just diligence," Krohn says. "This is the first time I've treated each discipline as its own thing. There were songs that were strictly done on the sampler, then there were songs where I wouldn't use the sampler at all. For the first time, I'm playing acoustic drums, building everything up live."
To complete the analogy, Krohn returns to the kitchen. "Instead of putting salt in every dish, I wanted to separate things out: This is going to be the salty dish. Other things won't have any salt in them at all."