Dame Fortune: RJD2 Premieres "We Come Alive" + Talks New LP Of "Post-Ferguson Soul"
Photo by Nick Fancher
Ever since gracing the scene in 2002, RJD2 has done it all from production to songwriting. His first couple of projects found him blending soul samples with a futuristic and electronic sounds, propelling him forward as one of the underground scene’s most innovative beatmakers. He took to crafting full-length albums with Aceyalone and Blueprint, which allowed him to change course and experiment with alternative rock on albums like The Third Hand and The Colossus.
RJD2’s forthcoming LP, Dame Fortune, finds the Columbus-raised, Philly-based musician seamlessly blending all of his sounds over the course of 12 tracks. Marked as his sixth solo record, Dame Fortune features appearances from some of Okayplayer’s favorites such as Phonte Coleman, Aaron Livingston and Blueprint. OKP was also the first place to unveil the album's first single, “Peace of What,” and mentioned his new project, which is set to hit stores and digital outlets on March 25.
With vocals from Jordan Brown littered throughout the album, Dame Fortune is reminiscent of RJ’s first two efforts. “Peace of What,” inspired by Main Source’s 1991 single, “Peace Is Not the Word to Play,” RJ’s take features hard-hitting drums and horns meant to get your brain as much as your body into the groove. Dame Fortune also features more somber sounds like an instrumental track called “PF Day One” which, according to RJ, was inspired by the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer.
“I felt like that was a new chapter, at least in my life, recognizing that this was not an isolated event,” he told Okayplayer in an exclusive interview.
By contrast "We Come Alive" (listen below via OKP premiere!) features Livingston in his Son Little persona, balancing softly haunting soul vocals with D2's cracking drums in a mix that feels--perhaps appropriately--like a daydream in the midst of a riot.
RJD2 also explained to us how a Philly connection with The Roots led to him linking with Sugar Tongue Slim for 2015’s “STS x RJD2” and dropped hints that his long-awaited third LP from his duo with Blueprint and Soul Position is closer to being released that fans might expect. We talked to RJD2 about all these things, plus how Dante’s Inferno inspired his latest work and why Ferguson had such an impact on him. Listen to the world premiere of his next single from the project "We Come Alive" below and read on for his thoughts on the current state of Post-Ferguson Soul.
Okayplayer:Dame Fortune is one of your most eclectic albums to date and it is sort of a combination of a bunch of different styles you played with on previous records. Was this a conscious decision to make a record like this or did it come about more organically?
RJD2: Yeah, you know, it was organic. You kind of follow your instincts when you’re making music. For me, I find that I follow my instincts when I’m making a record. When I make something I feel is formed by records that I’ve already made in many ways, there’s a point when you’re creating and you start thinking about the diversity of songs. Your brain naturally starts thinking in the context of a set of 10 to 12 or 15 songs, as opposed to three and a half minutes of one song. I try to use that information, but not run away with it… I try to keep it at bay basically.
Some of the stuff I would like to sound unfamiliar, some of it probably does sound new. I got records that are kind of loosely themed, but in terms of the actual composition, the actual making of a song is still kind of a thing that kind of, to some degree, is left to chance.
OKP: Your latest single off the project, “Peace of What” is definitely one of the more hard-hitting hip-hop records off the album. Do you feel like that track is sort of a callback to your first two projects?
RJD2: I feel there’s perspective one can have about a song, and so you can see that single through the perspective of a catalog. I’ve never released anything that was a conscious attempt to kind of tap into an emotion, or a feeling, or a vibe that I’ve already touched on previously.
[“Peace of What”] is a continuation of a thread that is a very common thing for me. The era of hip-hop that formed me as a producer was that era of 1991-1997. I ingested such copious amounts of Pete Rock and Premier and Prince Paul horn samples during that era, that it’s something I naturally gravitate toward. I look at “Ante Up,” the M.O.P. tune as a thing like – have you ever seen how a club reacts to “Ante Up”? If you’ve ever been in a room with 200 people and you hear “Ante Up,” and the music is so energetic and it captures a feeling. You see all those people having that moment reacting to that feeling, that to me is galvanized, crystalized, you know? There’s the magic of some big, loud drums and blaring horns.
OKP: What’s the meaning behind the title “Dame Fortune”?
RJD2: If there is, I don’t it yet. That’s a thing that happens sometimes. I’ll name songs or name records because they feel right. You know, the song’s done, the album’s done and I’m looking for a title – something in a title that feels appropriate. And sometimes I can’t necessarily explain why.
I keep notes of phrases and just word combinations and such in my phone. And this was just one of those phrases that wound up in my phone. And I don’t really know, sometimes it’ll be just a kernel of a thought that will spark the lyrics of a song or combined with something else becomes a title. That was a phrase that wound up and for some reason felt right. I’ll probably realize why that is at some point.
OKP: Where’d that phrase, “Dame Fortune” come from? Is it a name or something?
RJD2: I read a fair amount. I have to read to get to sleep, so I probably do a good 45 minutes of reading every night before I go to bed. And that came from a book. Somebody that I work with – my distributor – she figured out where that phrase is from. It’s from the book Dante’s Inferno, but the interesting thing is that I know it couldn’t have been a direct pull from the actual book. I must have read something that quoted a portion of Dante’s Inferno because I haven’t read it.
OKP: Is there a narrative fueling the whole Dame Fortune album?
Photo by Nick Fancher
OKP: ...After a few listens, it really feels like this album has at least some sort of narrative to it. Is that just how you sequenced it or were you trying to have a storyline or progression to the tracks?
RJD2: It’s definitely not a concept album, but to me, if it plays in a manner that it’s got one then that’s good. It’s not by accident. To me, one of the most challenging parts of making a record is sequencing the songs. I spend a lot of time on it. Sometimes the transitions are really important to me. There are times where I actually consider swapping certain songs out. Every time I make a record I over-record. I usually record about 18-20 songs, and I’ll pare that down and start looking at what really is important here.
A part of the reason I love making an album is it’s a sand of history – your own personal history. I feel like that’s a thing that’s going to be on record forever. So anyway, it feels like it has a flow to it at least sonically, and I think that’s in the sequencing.
OKP: One of the more moving songs on the album is “PF Day One,” which stands for Post Ferguson. Was it challenging to address such a tragic and emotional situation with an instrumental piece?
RJD2: Not really, it was pretty easy. It was one of those things that just came out. The feeling of the song, you know, it just manifested itself. That was one of the easiest songs on the record to compose. If that was a lyrics song, that would’ve been really challenging because there’s so much in there.
“Day One,” I felt like that was a new chapter, at least in my life, recognizing that this was not an isolated event. That was the thing that was so disturbing to me about that. I spent basically my whole life being shocked at these occurrences, seeing it as an isolated event. (The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson) was when I realized they’re not, they’re a part of a trend. And that was a much harder thing to come to terms with than the actual incident in Ferguson. That was really just a manifestation that I needed. The mood for me encapsulated in that song is a feeling that I needed to tap into on day one after that experience.
OKP: So is “Day One” specifically referencing the day after Michael Brown was shot and killed or is it more of the general time after the Ferguson situation?
RJD2: If I do a track, I’ll often times title it the day it was recorded, so like “February 28 track.” Later when it becomes something, I’ll give it a name. I’m 99 percent sure it was composed on the day after the shooting.
OKP: Last summer you linked up with STS to do a full-length album. How did that come about?
RJD2: I met Slim through my friend Khari Mateen, who was playing bass with me for a while. They knew each other because Khari’s pretty tight with everybody on The Roots team. He’d done some production on their records and stuff, and Slim appeared on one of their records. Once I started hearing some of Slim’s music, I was like, “Man, this guy can rap his ass off.” So I brought Khari and Slim to do a song on my last solo record, which is called “More Than Isn’t.” And from there, that relationship just blossomed and we ended up making a whole record together.
OKP: One of my personal favorites off the album is “Up in the Clouds” with fellow Columbus, Ohio native Blueprint. I’m sure you are tired of answering this question, but do you two ever plan on doing another Soul Position album?
RJD2: [Laughs] I’m not sick of answering it. We’ve been kicking around some songs and some ideas. You know, how close we are to having a Soul Position record done, I don’t know. But that has been on the table for a while now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a new Soul Position record at some point in the future.
Zach Gase is a freelance writer from Ohio whose byline has appeared at the Sun Times Network, Rap Reviews and Hip-Hop Speakeasy. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter!