By Conner Jensen
A staple in today’s hip-hop scene Ramble Jon Krohn, better known by his stage name of RJD2, has been a prominent figure in this genre since 2002. With his debut album Deadringer, released under Definitive Jux, he stirred up a lot of attention and praise. Since this debut he has bounced around to different labels and collaborating with different rappers to produce a discography of epic proportions, including nine studio albums and a handful of production credits, collaborations and EPs. Krohn is making his mark on 2016 with the release of Dame Fortune on his own record company RJ’s Electrical Connections. This work, much like his previous ones, is choke full of features and entrancing beats that are sure to have you punching the repeat button on your music player.
What better way to enter an album of this caliber than a portal? “A Portal Inward” opens the doors of this work with an ominous sustained bass, which is soon accompanied by the strung out waning of a synthesizer. Soon, there’s a crash and the synthesizer begins to become less strung out and begins to pick up tempo as higher pitched keys tinker in and out. This exciting yet trance-like entry into the album sets an overall tone for the rest of the album. As the journey through the portal is over, the listener is almost immediately immersed into the world of sound they just entered. “A Roaming Hoard” bursts in with fast-paced percussion, horns and synthesizer. The synthesizer plays a tune that is reminiscent of Middle Eastern music, while the horns contrast it with a jazzy excitement to create a fun and fast-paced beginning to the album. While there is a vocal accompaniment on this song, it’s obvious that it isn’t the major focus of the sound as it serves as more of a background to the sound that was initially set. This whirlwind of instruments fades as the horn blows a couple more times before fading into silence.
Suddenly, an electric guitar plays a funky 4-count rift and violins begin to dominate the melody of “Peace of What.” Percussion soon follows, as does the vocal accompaniment of Jordan Brown, whose smooth voice adds the edge this song needed. The inner-working of piano, bell-dominated percussion and violins maintains a more melancholy tone than the previous song, but is sure to have the listener dancing more than the previous. The piano tinkers out and the singing follows, setting the stage for “The Sheboygan Left.” A drum beat breaks the silence, and soon the bass and piano join into the melody. This blend creates an odd blues sound that the listener is bound to enjoy. Horns and background harmonizing soon begin to develop the song fully, adding a soulful sound to the strange-yet-satisfying mix. Halfway through the song, the synthesizer takes center stage and the other instruments bow out and allow the synthesizer and various sound effects to transition into the vibe-infused ending of the song. The tempo slows and the guitar passionately strums away before the background singers come back in to pick the pace back up and close the song on a more uplifted note. As the songs switch, a voice breaks in to introduce “A New Theory.”
After the voice finishes their statement, a strange sound that is sure to remind the listener of rewinding and a high-paced clacking that follows it creates the base of the theory. Ominous sound effects and reverberations fly in and out to create a sound that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, and is also difficult to classify as one genre. The only real way to know the new theory is to experience it for yourself. Silence serves as a transition once again as “We Come Alive” begins. Drums serve as the introductory sound and are soon accompanied by a high-pitched piano and electric guitar, maintaining the oddly melancholy tone that has been prominent throughout while also creating a pop-esque sound. The vocal accompaniment of Son Little solidifies the pop sound that has been established in this song. A showcase of Son little’s talent as well as a showcase of Krohn’s production ability, this song is not to be skipped. “PF, Day One” opens with the soulful playing of a piano accompanied by some electrical inflection to set the stage. Slowly but surely the ensemble increases, as the violin joins in on this slow and somber sounding track. This song maintains a peaceful sound, with each instrument taking its own time to dominant the sound, which is unlike any of the songs so far, setting the album up for a close as we come closer to the portal again.
Continuing with the peaceful sustained sound of the piano, “Saboteur” slowly crawls into a funky mix of pop and house styles with accompaniment by Phonte Cole. Cymbal-dominant percussion mixed with the piano and bass serves as a contrast to the reflective lyrics that maintain the tone that has been prominent in every song thus far. The range of Cole and the talented blending of the instruments by Krohn come together and form a refreshing change of pace that sets up the album for a strong close. “Your Nostalgic Heart and Lung” opens with vocalizing from the chorus and sci-fi sound effects, which soon begin to mix with the keyboard and ecliptic percussion to produce a song really true to the trance sound. After a very long build-up, percussion explodes in to mix with the sound thus far and close out the song in an exciting close that was far worth the wait. As the previous song fades, a piano plays a slow tempo, low-pitched intro to “Up in The Clouds.” The piano and violin remains as the dominant sound as Blueprint provides vocal accompaniment in the background. Soon the drums come in and Blueprint spits bars over the percussion-dominated beat. After Blueprint finishes, an instrumental begins to evolve the sound, incorporating a waning electric guitar into the fast-paced beat that combines a different side of electric music and contemporary hip hop. This song comes full circle ending the same way it began, allowing the listener to decompress from the delicious calamity they just experienced.
“Band of Matron Saints” fades in with ominous horns and a maintained low note of the synthesizer which is quickly joined by piano and sound effects. Suddenly, the electric guitar starts to pick up the pace and the rest of the ensemble creates a rock n’ roll sound with an electric flair. The vocal range of the accompanying singer, Josh Krajcik, creates a soulful bluesy sound that serves an excellent song before taking our portal outward. “Portals Outward” open with electric bells and rolling percussion before becoming an ominous yet relaxing ensemble of string instruments. This song take you on one final ride through the musical roller-coaster that is Dame Fortune before fading out into silence to close out the work.
RJD2’s Dame Fortune is an album unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, masterfully mixing instruments into combinations that excite, relax and please you every second of the way. Do yourself a favor and go open up that portal inward, and make sure to ignore the way out.