I spent more than a reasonable amount of time pondering whether or not to mark RJD2’s “More Is Than Isn’t” as an instrumental album. You can’t see it on your end, but each time one of us submits an update to RapReviews.com, there are a series of boxes we can check that will help you find things when you browse through our 10,000+ article archive. (Side note — if you want to help us pay for the hosting of that large repository we always appreciate the help!) I so rarely have call to use the “instrumental” box that each time feels like a big deal. 31.25% of this RJD2 album features vocalists though, and by track two you’re already hearing the smooth crooning of Phonte Coleman.
In the end though I decided that the easiest answer to this question was defined by Yasiin Bey long ago — “Mathematics.” 68.75% > 31.25%. And so “Behold, Numbers!”
This is a largely instrumental album with a few enjoyable exceptions. The good news is that RJD2 can make a good song with or without vocals. That’s why chances are if you know any one thing about him before reading this review it’s probably the “Mad Men” theme song. Perhaps it’s time to get to know him for something else, like “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request.” It’s the lone music video from this album and since it’s a song that has no guest vocalist, the guests in the video are a crew of fly b-boys and a b-girl named Reggie O, Mony Swiff and (appropriately enough) Her Majesty.
It’s everything a good RJD2 song should be. Multiple different musical influences find their way into the layers of the track from the Middle East to the Dirty South. It’s as old school as the power from the street lights and as new age as the whistling electronics and percussive hand claps too fast for any human hand. It’s exactly the song you’d want to see people pop and lock to, and this crew does it well. Try to take your eyes off the way Her Majesty whips her hair back and forth for a second. You can’t.
You’ll have just as hard of a time pulling your ears away from RJD2 x Blueprint on “It All Came to Me in a Dream.” I had an argument with some family members recently about the state of hip-hop and one of them said to me point blank “Everything made since 2010 sucks.” Well I’m going to assume he wasn’t listening to this album (2013) or “King No Crown” (2015) because neither one does, nor does this track. If I’m being generous he was probably talking about what gets played on the radio or goes mainstream thanks to TikTok, but since when was that a basis for judging what’s good in music… ever?
And if you had any doubts on that score, calling a song “Winter Isn’t Coming” shows that RJD2 wants to stay far away from the mainstream. I’m sure he doesn’t mind the royalty checks he got thanks to AMC, but he’s not letting that single success define his musical vision. He works with who he wants and makes the kind of tracks he wants. There have been occasions I thought his work strayed too far from anything recognizable to a rap fan, but this album lives up to its billing. It’s “More Is Than Isn’t” and that IS happens to be an excellent experiment in sound that’s grounded in its hip-hop roots.