Interview: Producer RJD2 Discusses Laying The Foundations For Diplo And Mad Men
Though his stage name may not ring a bell at first (unless it’s in reference to Star Wars), producer RJD2 (aka Ramble John Krohn) has been behind the decks on some of past decades most iconic and memorable jams. For Mad Men fans, he can be found before the start of each episode when the opening credits play “A Beautiful Mine.” He can also be found in several NBA sports and Blackberry commercials since they have all featured his track “Ghostwriter.” Now RJD2 drops a brand new, full-length album (his fifth to be exact) called More Is Than Isn’t – available for preorder here – which he discusses with VIBE in our exclusive interview below along with details on his 20 years of experience and accomplishments in producing.
VIBE: We hear you can bake a mean cobbler. If you could compare your sound to a culinary dish, which would it be and why?
RJD2: Hm, what’s a dish you can make completely different… I’d probably compare it to something like tofu. A thing that’s chameleon-esque, it can take on the properties of however you cook it. You can do Southern BBQ Tofu or ‘hippy’ tofu with kale.
You’re stage name RJD2 was given to you by a friend and it kind of stuck from there. How did you’re friend come up with the name in the first place?
I think it at the time it was an obvious joke for him. I didn’t like it in all honesty. I still to some degree, I’ve always thought it was kind of goofy. I remember when I first produced a record, having this internal dialogue with myself along the lines, “Well I just want to make records. I don’t really want to decide on a name.” But in lieu of giving up credit for producing a record, I had to come up with something as a name and it was the only thing anybody had called me artistically. It sort of like when you open up the refrigerator and all you have is leftovers.
Would you ever consider changing the name?
I wouldn’t now, because I’ve done multiple records. But on the subject, it dawned on me very recently what I could’ve done. For me, I often have fleeting ideas that come and go quite often, and I had an idea once that a dismissed rather quickly where I would change my name every time I put out an album. In hindsight, it would’ve been really cool. From a marketing standpoint, it’s the worst idea you could possibly come up with. But from a creative and aesthetic standpoint, from a brand point of view, where my records change from year to year it really would have made sense.
You live in Philadelphia now. Any run-ins with former Philly kid Diplo, who actually got his start there in 2003?
I actually took Diplo on his first U.S. tour when I was touring for my second album and his first album just came out. We had a mutual friend, this guy Tony, and that’s how we had met. Then a couple of years later, he did this mix called ‘A-E-I-O-U’ he gave me and at that time I had only known him as a record collector. Shortly after that, he got his deal on Ninja Tune and that’s why I brought him out to open on the ‘Since We Last Spoke’ tour (2004) where he took off from there.
What was your first impression of Diplo?
He and his crew were cool guys, nice dudes – definitely jokesters. I didn’t know Philly very well when I first met Tony…and we’d all go to the flea market together at like 6 a.m. To do that sort of thing takes a certain personality, and it’s hard to describe, but record nerds would recognize it. There’s a very distinct character trait that facilitates that sort of talent.
On a random note, your own track “A Beautiful Mine” plays as the theme song for the AMC series ‘Mad Men.” How did you snag that in the first place?
They just came to me and said they wanted to use the song for the show, basically.
Did you have any idea what it was to become when you first agreed to have “A Beautiful Mine” played in the opening credits?
I didn’t even see a pilot, so I had no idea what the show’s was about or like. Furthermore, it was on AMC and if you have to realize if you go back to 2007 the station wasn’t as high profile. It wasn’t really lauded or recognized network in of itself, so there was a risk factor. I didn’t jump at the thing the first time around, I actually said no. It took a number of people to push through to make the thing happen, and then I just relented and said “Sure.” It’s an honor to have my music on the show now – it’s very cool.
You now have new music coming out with your fifth full-length album, More Is Than Isn’t. What was the mission statement in producing that album?
This was the first record I had made in a long time where I consciously went into it without really thinking about things in the ‘mission statement’ manner. Basically what happened is I finished up the ‘Iceberg’ record, had a kid and then I started making music again I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was just doing – it was very instinctual. The record didn’t have a mission statement per se, if anything it was the ‘anti-mission statement.’
You’re also on tour this season. What can we expect from your performance?
I use mostly vinyl with four turntables and two samplers. I build the set in a manner in which it relies really heavily on a live performance act. There’s solidity there along with things happening quote-unquote ‘off the grid’ in the sense that they are not pre-programmed that can provide a human feel to it.
Being in this industry since 1993, what have been some major differences you’ve notice in the style, execution and artists within the genre over the years. What’s one thing you could change about EDM and one thing you would continue to keep?
I’ve definitely seen things changed in the world of music as a whole. If there’s one thing I could change about it, I would like to see a better middle ground between the public/fans component of it and the artist. It’s ironic, because we live in an era the digital nature of our lifestyle facilitates communication in so many ways but I feel like there’s so many misunderstandings and misinformation that both sides have. In all honesty, it’s sometimes disheartening to hear comments from people and they are just so far off base from what the reality of the business side of things is.
In terms of one thing I would want to stay the same, the most inspiring thing about where we’re at now musically. When I grew up getting into music, things were very stratified between house music, techno and hip-hop. At that time, it didn’t facilitate any crosstalk between those genres and that has fallen by the wayside now in so many ways… Nowadays, if you’re growing up you’ve had three or four generations of white rappers, so there is not much novelty left in a young white male who can rap well in the post-Eminem era, and hip-hop producers can sample indie rock.
For the aspiring DJ/producer out there, what would you say is the one thing they need in order to succeed in this business?
I still believe the one thing people really need is a good song. It’s the one thing you can’t really duplicate. Once you have that, the way you go about things will be a lot easier, and it’s going to follow with smart business decisions and bad business decision.