In the beginning-circa late 1970s A.D.-the DJ-producer and the MC co-existed to transmit a synchronized sound wave to the audience. The relationship had a mutually beneficial dynamic; the beat created an abstract vibe, and the lyrics articulated it. Hip-hop has become a dichotomy though, a sibling rivalry for parental attention-or Billboard chart placement.
"The formula for making a lot of rap music now is just idiot's music," producer-DJ RJD2 remarks. "I love these guys, but you could take any Just Blaze beat and you could put it under any Ludacris song, and it's a no-brainer, it's gonna work. That's what's kinda tough about working with a rapper... it's really hard to sit down and do something that's gonna bring out what that person is about."
Columbus, Ohio natives RJD2 and MC Blueprint-whom together make up the new duo, Soul Position-aim to re-establish the binary bond perfected by duos like Eric B. & Rakim, Scott La Rock and KRS-One (Boogie Down Productions), DJ Premier and Guru (Gang Starr), and R2D2 and C3PO. Their science- fictional debut opus 8 Million Stories demonstrates that chemistry. Fellow MHz crew member Blueprint narrates the message, which melds seamlessly with RJ's blueprint, constructing a solid and symbiotic sonic composition.
"It really only works best when the MC knows what they're doing and what kind of style they like," RJ says, "and the producer has an idea of what kind of music is gonna come out of it and kind pushes it in a certain direction."
The DJ-producer can stand alone, however, as RJ demonstrated on his macabre solo LP, Dead Ringer. The album garnered him praise from the general music community and the esteemed honor of "Best Album of 2002" from The Roots' Questlove-the unofficial hip-hop authority.
Without the emcee to dictate the message, though, the music becomes subjective and ambiguous, like the vocal sample on "The Horror," wherein a seemingly neurotic man repeats the line, "time to understand the world."
"It's just aesthetics," is RJ's explanation for the sample. "It was the tone, and what the guy was talkin' about. The track kinda came together and I was just, like, "What kind of vocals would work with this, and what kind of tone?' Sort of a black-and-white horror movie-type thing really seemed to fit in the narration style."
Musical instrumentation cannot encode an objective message because it is abstracted emotion. The message is transmitted, but the meaning is always open to interpretation. This is the position of the soul, a quixotic concept and an untranslatable dialect. Music is a product of the soul, so it is consequently subjective.
"It's not so much that I'm trying to capture anything," explains RJ. "I just mostly try to sit down and have fun. For me, music is a process that's only interesting when it's in relation to other things that I've done. The continuation and the building of a body of work, if you will, is much more interesting and relevant to me than just sitting down and making a beat."
"My favorite producers and my favorite groups are those that have progressed. Gang Starr has put out exceptional records, but what's even more exceptional than any one of their records is the order in which Step in the Arena, Daily Operation, and Hard to Earn came out. 'Cause to me, that was a producer really doing three different styles, and in hindsight you can kinda see him working towards a particular style and just honing it."
With production credits that range from Mos Def to M.F. Doom, RJD2 seems to be similarly honing his craft and broadening his sound.
"That was the whole goal when I started producing was I didn't want to have a sound. Only now do I realize how impossibly difficult that is." ©
Soul Position performs with Illogic and PRZM at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 22. $12. 619-232-HELL.