There are plenty of artists in my music library who defy strict categorization, but I have to admit that RJD2 provides one of the biggest headaches when it comes to figuring out where to classify him, whether it be for the purposes of maintaining cohesion within my iTunes library, or that brief moment when I went crazy and tried to divide my CD collection into genres. Is he hip-hop? Well, yeah. Alternative/”indie rock?” Yeah, that, too. Soul? Dance? Pop? Truthfully, the midwestern turntablist/vocalist could fits into all-and none-of the categories you could throw at him, which means that every new RJD2 album is something of an adventure.
More Is Than Isn’t, the latest album RJ has released under his own name, is definitely an adventure. Over the course of its running time, you’ll hear smooth vocals courtesy of The Foreign Exchange’s Phonte Coleman, you’ll hear echoes of everyone from DJ Shadow to Timbaland, you’ll hear RJ’s own haunting vocals, you’ll hear past collaborators Aaron Livingston and Blueprint, you’ll hear…you’ll hear a lot of shit, man. And most of it is good. Quite good.
I can’t say that I’m generally much for instrumental music. I like melodies, to be able to sing along, to have lyrics to relate to. Aside from my jazz collection, RJD2 is about the only time I’ll step aside from listening to 100% vocal music. One major highlight on More Is Than Isn’t is “Got There, Sugar?”, which transforms from a cool, jazzy jam into high-stepping funk. Played live, it’ll get the party started. But unlike most dance-oriented music, it sounds just as good played at home. The horn-spiked “Descended From Myth” is ’70s cop-show theme meets Daft Punk, and “Behold, Numbers!” is one Justin Timberlake vocal away from being a massive pop hit.
As for the vocal tracks, RJ himself carries the lullaby-like “Dirty Hands,” while the Aaron Livingston collabo “Love And Go” tops just about everything on their joint Icebird LP. Of course, Phonte is his usual dependable self on “Temperamental.” Seems like RJ has better simpatico these days with singers than he does rappers. The two least essential songs on More Is Than Isn’t feature emcees. “See You Leave” is reminiscent of 2001-era Dre (thick basslines and chunky blues guitar,) but that song as well as “Bathwater” wind up being at least partially ruined by P. Blackk and STS, neither of whom boast the lyrical acuity of RJ’s constant rhyme partner, Blueprint. Thankfully, Blueprint himself shows up at album’s end to deliver “It All Came To Me In A Dream,” a song that’s several steps above the other tracks featuring rappers. The song also makes me wonder how much longer I’m gonna have to wait for another Soul Position LP.
Buying an RJD2 album is like getting a grab bag gift. You’re never quite sure what you’re gonna get. Thankfully, unlike most grab bag gifts, you’re almost always going to be pleased with the end result when it comes to RJ albums. More Is Than Isn’t, despite a couple of regrettable collaborations, is no different.