After taking a look at “More Is Than Isn’t” a few months ago I decided to go back and see what other RJD2 projects we hadn’t covered yet. It only took a matter of moments to come across “The Colossus” from 2010, a 14 track CD (and double vinyl) released through his own RJ’s Electrical Connections label. Just like that previous review it’s a conundrum to decide whether this is an instrumental album or a standard release. It’s more the former than the latter but songs like “Games You Can Win” featuring Kenna forced my hand — I have to conclude that it’s both.

Ordinarily I’d be focused on RJD2’s production on an album that’s ostensibly his, but Kenna’s vocal performance intrigued me so much I fell down a rabbit hole it took a while to climb out of. He’s an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States who was childhood friends Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. You might think that would lead to a lifetime of musical accomplishments, and while he’s certainly had his share, he may be as well or better known for things like “Summit on the Summit” where he and others attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness about global water shortages (including in the village he hailed from). While I accept that any bio of a famous person could be misleading or self-aggrandizing (take Tommy Tallarico for example) this one seems to be on the level. Kenna strikes me as a good dude.

Let’s get back to “The Colossus” though, which includes my own sheepish admission I wrote RJD2 off too quickly for what I perceived as a slight toward hip-hop music and culture back in 2007. The truth is he never abandoned it. RJ may have felt trapped by the expectations of his own success, which I can hardly fault him for when reviewers (myself included) gushed about his instrumentals. I think he was looking for a little room to breathe, which makes the title of a song like “A Spaceship For Now” more than a metaphor. You can feel the liquid oxygen rushing into the rockets as the song slowly builds toward liftoff, then a minute in there’s an explosion of drums and melody as the track soars into the sky. It’s also not a coincidence he works with Phonte Coleman on “The Shining Path,” an artist who has also dared to defy expectations by singing instead of sticking to rapping.

Unintentionally I feel like I was a part of polarizing RJ’s audience. While perusing reviews for “The Colossus” I saw some of the widest spread of opinion I’ve seen for any album. The A.V. Club gave it a D- while Spin gave it 8 out of 10. Were those writers even listening to the same CD? I’m sure they were but it’s still a strange degree of difference. The only way I could make sense of it was to try to look at it through the lens of late 2009/early 2010 when it released, at a point where multiple forces were trying to lead rap music in widely divergent directions. KRS-One once bragged that hip-hop was like a dog that followed him wherever he went, but both the musical art and the culture surrounding it were far too big for that at this point. The very reason I love Illogic as an emcee (one of many people featured on “A Son’s Cycle”) is also the point — if you view rap as having to be trap, hard, thug, boom bap, G-funk, East coast, Westside, Dirty South or any of a dozen other descriptors he and his cohorts on the song don’t fit neatly into any of them.

If this review can do anything to tear down the fences that we all put up accidentally or intentionally, then “Let There Be Horns.” When you get back to the basics of the beats, with or without the rhymes, then a track should make you have an emotional response. RJD2’s track is a journey that plays like a movie, rowdily stomping from one scene to the next, giving you no shortage of opportunities to nod along as it rolls. The “Horns” are a vehicle driving you to each destination, and it’s a fun ride to get on. RJ follows the oldest of rap traditions by taking various musical sources and chopping them up to rearrange them in any funky-ass order he likes.

So where on the spectrum does my review of “The Colossus” fall? Well it’s damn sure not a D-. If you don’t prefer albums that are 60%+ instrumental then perhaps this one isn’t for you. If you’re not into hearing Kenna or Phonte sing then it’s not for you either. If you just like hearing a musician like RJD2 splice things together in ways that are as enjoyable if not more-so than the source material, he ranks right up there with The Alchemist. If that’s an apology for slighting him in a review from the 2000’s it’s sincerely meant. You never left hip-hop but some of us left you by mistake. You just kept right on being creative whether we were looking or not.

RJD2 :: The Colossus
8Overall Score
Reader Rating 1 Vote