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?