Whether he is in his Oregon birthplace or his newfound home in Columbus, OH, Ramble John Krohn – a.k.a. RJD2 – will always be in West Philly. It’s where we first met the human mixtape, the electro-acoustic artist and the theme music composer (the AMC Network’s “Mad Men” for one) – hanging with Diplo, working the engines, rejiggering the numbers, and releasing records through his label, RJ’s Electrical Connections.
“I’ve always felt like a visitor or transient, wherever I am,” he told me around the time of his last album, “Dame Fortune” and its TSOP-like grooves. “Of course, I have my own pocket of the city, and places I frequent – record shops, restaurants, etc. – but I also feel like the city has so many layers of culture, music, art, and stuff, that there’s more than I’ll ever explore.”
And of his moving to Ohio with his wife and his child, RJD2 said “As a single man in an alternate universe – a solitary life of gallivanting around the planet – Philly as a home base was great. As a married man, I want my family to be happy and my kid to grow up with his grandparents. That was important to me.”
Look. Wherever RJD2 roams, he will always be a Philly guy (besides, he has moved out of, and returned to Philly in the past). That’s apparent from the bump-and-grind of his newest album, “The Fun Ones,” which drops Friday, April 17.
Considered something of a mixtape with sampled sonic dialogues with friends, familiars and collaborators, “The Fun Ones” is more jovial and openly, directly hip hop than anything RJD2 has done in ages. Along with Philadelphia’s Son Little, “The Fun Ones” features contributions from and conversations with Phonte Coleman, J-Zone, Kid Koala, Mr. Lif, and a dense brass sound like never before. Plus, longtime RJD2 collaborators, STS and Khari Mateen, jump on the first single “Pull Up On Love,” and turn the entire open instrumental affair into a James Brown-like party.
“This tune started with some Zigaboo-inspired drums, a nice little sweeping guitar lick, and a bass line that left plenty of space for wherever Slim (aka STS) was gonna take the track,” wrote RJ. “I purposely left some room to fill out the track once the vocals were in place. So when Slim sent it back to me, and Khari had did his thing on it, it had such a great vibe to it that I didn’t want to drench the track in production tricks and overdubs. I wanted the vocal performances to shine, so I basically cleaned up the mix, did a few breakdowns, and left it as is.”
Along with its sleek chord changes, and scrubbed-fresh funk, there is a rawness to “The Fun Ones” that we haven’t heard from RJD2 in some time. Maybe the Ohio breezes, combined with his Philly vibe, is doing him some real good.