Review Summary: Poppier, more accessible, and hardly hip-hop, RJD2 presents a new sound on a new label where he plays every note and sings the entire time.
Throughout the last decade or so, we’ve had various hip-hop artists blur the boundaries between alternative and hip-hop, sometimes finding more fans in the alternative/rock scene than in the hip-hop scene. Most recently, The Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley crossed these genre lines and met extreme success. Their music lied its roots in hip-hop, but with sung vocals and a more melodic take on their music, they found new ears and more people enjoyed it. DJ Shadow’s blend of trip-hop puts him in festivals like Coachella alongside bands like The Flaming Lips and The Arcade Fire. Gnarls Barkley is finally riding their wave in and their popularity is decreasing. They plan to emerge with another album that will hopefully provide tracks as catchy as Crazy, but if any other artist wanted to cash in on the fame that Gnarls Barkley received, the time is now. RJD2 and his latest album, The Third Hand, possess the melodic hip-hop that found so many other artists critical and mainstream acclaim before him.
RJD2 is the one man project of Ramble John Krohn. Much in the line of Danger Mouse, RJD2 does producing, remixing, and his own solo work, including a remix of Radiohead’s Airbag
. The Third Hand is his first album away from Def Jux Records, a left field hip hop label. Instead, he joins up with XL Recordings, the same label that released Thom Yorke’s The Eraser. XL being a more prominent label, this is the time for RJD2 to step out into the mainstream. However, he needed something that would set him apart from his growing genre of imitators.
The first noticeable aspect of the music is the absence of actual hip-hop. The influence is there, especially in the drum grooves and some of the melodies, especially noticeable in Beyond
. It starts instrumental and could easily feature a rapper at any second. Instead, it becomes sparser with synthesized staccato voices. These two voices are essentially the two parts of the song, with the former being the chorus that repeats itself with RJD2 adding vocals. These vocals make this further from hip-hop than anything he has ever done. RJD2 sings throughout the entire album. His voice is on pitch and has a unique quality about it, it holds a tune well. He double tracks himself often to create harmonies. However, he is no Cee-Lo and there is a quavering tentativeness about his voice.
Still, there are some great tracks here. Laws of the Gods
sounds like a 21st century recreation of Eleanor Rigby, with Krohn reaching high up into his falsetto. The melody and chord progression is very simple and takes a very Lennon-esque quality about the style. You Never Had It So Good
opens the album with a beautiful and catchy arpeggio. It explodes into something that departs completely from hip-hop outside the electronic drum beat. Instead, RJD2 presents an indie-pop styled, laid-back song with catchy melodies. The catchiness of this album is really its greatest aspect. RJD2 creates poppy and fun music with The Third Hand. In the middle of the album, he delves into more complex material in some instrumentals, but he maintains the same voice from the rest of the album. Although he changes instruments and tempos often, the fun and light feel of the album never leaves and it gets tiring. Get It
switches from airy electronica to guitar-based rock on the fly. For about a minute and a half, it is interesting, but it just gets repetitive. The repetitive nature of his instrumentals is the biggest flaw, and a little more creativity on his part in the instrumentals would have brought the album up significantly.
The Third Hand is the sound of RJD2 reaching to his outer reaches and experimenting with a brand new idea and sound. His conception of melody and harmony is well above the average hip-hop artist, but the album as a whole is very flat and boring. Individual tracks have many redeeming qualities; however, this is not an album to listen to from start to finish. The Third Hand is certainly a step in a new direction for RJD2, and he creates songs that could find some success on the radio while still maintaining a musical integrity that makes it interesting to a trained ear as well.
You Never Had It
Laws of the Gods