For those of you who don’t immediately recognize the name RJD2, he was the composer of “A Beautiful Mine,” which became the theme song for the hit television show Mad Men, and his 2002 debut record, Deadringer, (released on El-P’s old label, Definitive Jux, which was home to artists like Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, and Del the Funky Homosapien), was hailed an instant classic, harking back to instrumental electronic hip-hop artists such as DJ Shadow. But as great as the Mad Men theme or the lead single, “Ghostwriter,” off Deadringer might have been, RJD2 hasn’t impressed me since 2004’s “Iced Lightning,” off of his second album, Since We Last Spoke.
Now on his sixth studio album, Dame Fortune, RJD2 continues to make horn & string driven soulful music that’s insanely “oh yeah that’s RJD2” recognizable while simultaneously experimenting with pass/fail level electronic tracks in-between. Most of the critique of the record from critics stems from RJD2 seeming too stuck in the past, and more cheesy than cool, but to me it feels less like RJ’s stuck in the past and more like he just doesn’t know how to move forward. The entire record, from the very beginning, constantly clashes between soulful ’70’s sounding vocal driven songs and electronic DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… sounding sample chop tracks, which don’t fit together when stuck into a cohesive project.
Bookends like “A Portal Inward” & “Portals Outward” don’t really do anything to describe the album or the juxtaposition of styles that Dame Fortune encompasses. Plus “Portals Outward” has these champion sounding chords to finish off the record as if “Peace of What” wasn’t the only good song on the entire record. I wish the bit from “The Roaming Hoard” through “The Sheboygan Left” were the style of the entire record, even the track “We Come Alive” with Son Little, who made a whole record with RJD2 as “Icebird” called The Abandoned Lullaby, which I definitely recommend, but instead Dame Fortune is also chock full of songs like “PF, Day One,” or “Your Nostalgic Heart and Lung,” which I could have totally lived without. But the main crux that brings down Dame Fortune is the struggle between RJD2’s need to tackle everything at once, or his inability to hone in on one of strengths. I mean, the term “Dame Fortune” doesn’t even seem to have any connection to the record at all, and it’s the name of the album. Maybe RJ just doesn’t know how to make a cohesive record, or even how to move on from Deadringer.