Best known for producing the “Mad Men” intro, Columbus, Ohio, native Ramble Jon Krohn — also known as RJD2 — recently released his sixth solo album, “Dame Fortune,” on March 25.
Throughout his career, RJD2 has consistently demonstrated his tendency to blend genres, beginning with the album “DeadRinger” in 2002. His style often relies on sampling, incorporating melodies and lyrics from older songs along with original production and verses from guest rappers. Although grounded in hip-hop production and the indie rock sound, “Dame Fortune” features a strong influence of electronic styles. The album marks a shift from the solely introspective music of past albums to one that can be enjoyed in a group — a change that creates a discordant purpose and often shallow attempts at social consciousness.
The album title borrows from a phrase referring to the Roman goddess of luck, yet does not reflect a consistent theme throughout the songs. Indeed, the unoriginal title points to a greater theme of either cliched social messages or wholly unexplained ideas. In an interview with Pitchfork, RJD2 commented that the album’s lead single, “Peace of What,” reflects “the discrepancy between our words and our actions [that] can get fatiguing.” The song itself has nine lines, contributed by singer Jordan Brown, all of which fail to suggest RJD2’s intended message. The lyrics all hint to abstract ideas like “this freedom that comes to you,” but are remiss in their failure to reference peace. The title of the album seems like it would serve as a central theme or unifying concept for the project, yet the idea of luck is absent from to many of the songs. The album seems to be open to interpretation by the listener; however, based on the album and song titles, this results in listeners feeling misled.
Another inconsistent feature of the album is the incongruous inclusion of non-hip-hop aspects in its production. Starting with his 2013 album “More is than Isn’t” — released on his own label, RJ’s Electrical Connections — RJD2’s music logically included greater electronic influences such as synths. Yet conjoining these genres, especially on this album, often leads to disjointed songs. For an artist attempting to create a cohesive and conscious album, many songs do not have fluid transitions between each other. A song like “We Come Alive,” one of the more fun and energetic tracks, comes after the boisterous synths and sampling on “The Roaming Hoard.” Songs like “The Sheboygan Left” manage to combine both these elements, resulting in one of the highlights of the album due to the pleasant mixture of aspects of rock, electronic and — surprisingly — folk.
Many of the songs also leave listeners lapsing into boredom for extended periods of time. For example, the intro track, “A Portal Inward,” consists of over two minutes of ethereal chords and minimalist drums. Although it is pleasant and introspective at first, the first minute was more than enough and the track dragged on after. Common with albums from a hip-hop producer, this problem often manifests because of the difficulty of creating unique and compelling music without vocals. RJD2 acknowledges this, infusing variety with rappers and sampling vocals. Songs that blend the interesting production and lyricism are the highlights of the album, like the melodious track “We Come Alive,” which features the rapper Son Little. RJD2’s sampling also deserves commendation, as he creates beats with old soul music as centerpieces. Indeed, he has refined this skill over his long career, and used them in a manner reminiscent of the production of Kanye West and E1-P, founder of record label Definitive Jux — under which RJD2 was formerly signed — and member of the rap duo Run the Jewels.
Despite its flaws, “Dame Fortune” provides fans of RJD2 more of the music they enjoy and follow. To new listeners, the album’s diversity of musical genres definitely draws appeal, yet most people will only enjoy of a few of the album’s songs. The production deserves more praise for the creative ideas than the execution, as the resulting album contained many dull stretches and random departures. The album is worth a listen, and if not, singles like “We Come Alive” or “The Sheboygan Left” make for a good introduction to the artist’s extensive discography.
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