RJD2’s newest effort isn’t hip-hop

By By Miles Ridling and By Miles Ridling

By Miles Ridling

RJD2The Third HandXL RecordsThree-and-a-half out of five stars

RJD2’s work ethic and original sound have been godsends since early 2000-year after year of ambient, thrashing, hip-hop articulation has lit the music world’s graying skies.

With The Third Hand, Rambling John (RJ) continues to satisfy in terms of furthering a prolific career. Where it fails to satisfy is in those “traditional” late-night D2 cravings that might hit the beat-hungry B-boy/girl.

It’s not a radical shift, but RJ’s jump from the Definitive Jux label to XL Records does mark a distinct shift away from the hip-hop-oriented, head-nodding beat-wizard toward that of the down-home, robo-gospel pop-singer.

The Third Hand features RJ sampling a handful of “new” instruments, including electric piano, guitar and, interestingly enough, his own voice.

Yes, that awkward and strangely refreshing moment in 2004’s Since We Last Spoke (anyone remember the song “Making Days Longer”?) is unearthed, dusted off and handed over to RJ’s slew of sound-masticating machines.

What comes out are some down-home, preacher-ish vocals that fit humbly alongside Rambling John’s newly acquired old-fashioned conviction for the simple life — RJ is singin’ ’bout workin’ hard ‘n’ comin’ home to his one true love.

Backing all this conviction — there is a noticeable amount — is a stripped-down sound that’s still noticeably grounded in RJ’s trademark drumming sample fundamentals, but is noticeably not hip-hop (think a grassroots version of Dead Ringer).

RJ spends less time in detailing/layering each song with 2,000 two-second samples and spends more time smoothing and harmonizing a small blend of samples over the length of each song.

What RJ ends up with is an unexpected mix of drawn out, hand-woven samples, major chords, groove-centric rhythms and vocal harmonizing. The Third Hand is an album catering to the ever-growing field of durable electro-pop. As such, it will rile the expectation monster in all those familiar with D2’s music, but, if given time, will make you feel right at home in its sound.

Don’t let the monster ruin this one; you’ll thank yourself later.