Return of the Jedi

Once hailed as the savior of instrumental hip hop, RJD2 is back with his sophomore release

Perhaps it is this hovering between art-school antagonism and adherence to classical songwriting conventions that makes instrumental hip hop an unwelcoming work space for many artists. Its intentions are unclear: Is it "leisure music for b-boys," as veteran local rare-groove DJ Romanowski (who will be opening for RJD2 this week) puts it, or the soundtrack to "sell a million Volkswagens," as Spin declares? For his part, RJ enjoys the blurriness of the line, and he relishes the freedom to cross back and forth as the mood strikes him. (His street cred doesn't seem to have tarnished after his song "Ghostwriter" was used in a Saturn commercial.)

"That's a challenge I'm enjoying right now," he states. "Yeah, I like melodic music, and I like a lot of accessible music. But I also like a lot of inaccessible music and I know that I work in the medium that's underground hip hop. Most of it is inaccessible, and that's fine with me. I'm not trying to change it; I'm trying to contribute to it. But for me, more and more, contributing to underground hip hop means fucking with its status quo."

RJD2: The force is strong with this one.
RJD2: The force is strong with this one.


From A to Z (Azeem and DJ Zeph), Diverse, and Romanowski open

Saturday, May 22, at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door


Club Q, 61 Golden Gate (at Market), S.F.

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Every track of Spokeresounds with RJ's lofty goals: maintaining the moldy, analog sound quality of his sources; making melodies and vocal loops that are pretty; imploding the endlessly DJ Premier-derivative staunchness of indie hip hop. As a result, each song is like a condensed mix tape, packed to the bursting point with good ideas and forgotten gems. But the other end of the bargain is that a patented RJD2 sonic signature remains elusive. This is ultimately a good thing: He continues to innovate the genre he works in, yet few, if any, can follow in his footsteps.

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