RJD2 Interview About Columbus Graffiti, Howard Zinn, The Colossus & Mad Men

All Photos by Dan McMahon except the Holy Roller.

As we have said repeatedly on this website. RJD2 is headlining our 7-Year Anniversary at Skullys this Friday Feb 5th. Ticket info and line-up here

RJ is an old friend of mine, so in this informal interview we chopped it up about his brief graffiti career,walking the tracks near the Ohio State Fairgrounds, the passing of Howard Zinn, RJ’s new album The Colossus and his theme song for TV’s Mad Men.

I remember when I first heard your name in Hip Hop discussions around town, graff writers were like…thats RJD2 blah blah he is down with A-Team? A-Team had pieces at the convention center and CAP that hit you up… This question is more for the graffiti dorks but…?

so i moved to the bay area after dropping out of college. i had my records and turntables and stuff, and one of the dudes who i stayed with shortly was down with the a-team guys, this dude cliff. he was the only guy i knew in the city at a point, and then he left too. so the only people i knew in SF were cram, esa, this kid beaver who i cant remember what he wrote, but he would do these “god is love” pieces all over the city, and a few other guys. so they sorta inducted me in as the unofficial a-team dj or whatever. those were the only kids i knew in the city, really. so i’d hang with them, maybe go out a little here and there with em while they painted, but not too much. i later found out that esa had a columbus connection. and then cram moved to philly after i’d been here a while. small world, basically. and my friend cliff lived near and was friends with mike giant, and looked up to him-in 95 SF graff world, he was a really big deal, up there with twist and amaze and the like upper echelon of bay writers, so i met mike thru him. esa later moved to LA, and i think she was doing fine art or something. cram actually was doing public murals for a living for a long time. i guess mike giant got involved in tattoos, but i havent spoken to him in a loooooong time. but in short, all the a-team guys were just cool people, no ego shit, just real friendly folks.

The last song on Colossus, “Walk With Me” talks about walking the tracks.
haha, yea. that was actually a reference to the tracks behind summit and 71; i used to walk those tracks with my dad when i was young, and we would just rap for hours.

It reminds me of when you, Wands TM7 , myself and a couple other BSA cats used to go paint freights right before you moved away…remember that?

yea. those were fun times. its funny, cause those were really the only times i ever went out and painted,actually. when i was with the a-team guys, i would just hang out and watch. its funny how you can be way out in nowhere-wherever they “park” freights- at 2 am and still even think about whether someone might see you. i remember doing that roller piece that said “def jux”, with everybody’s names on the label, kinda as a favor or whatever. i showed it to those guys, and they got really freaked out like “dont show this to anybody, someone could come after us”. i was like ummmmm…..that’s not gonna happen….

Why did you choose to do rollers?
oh, cause i dont have any sort of hand style, really. the whole can control thing is really something you gotta practice obviously, and im not a graffiti writer. nut rolling, you just go big. period. that’s it.

The song itself if more about getting back an communication with people in a private space if I’m correct..
Do you walk around much?

yes, you’re right. really just about the connection between walking and talking, in a literal sense. something about walking
seems to give conversation a higher level of purpose for some reason. i spend a fair amount walking
my dogs here in philly. and if im on tour, im walking alot.

A few months ago you were talking about Howard Zinn who recently passed away. What is something that you’ve learned from him?

wow. too much to put down on paper really. i guess the biggest bullet points i took were that A) you always always always need to think for yourself. there is no moral justification in the fact that anything has any sort of populist support. and B) the thing about how Ireland didn’t have a popular vote in the 19th century, and they were hugely successful in universal labor strikes. and apparently they found that implementing a popular voting procedure pacified peoples’ desire to voice their opinions through effective means. it completely spun my perception of a democratic vote in the US around. i was hardcore “do your part-vote”, in the last election. now, im realizing that there is not alot of connection between my pulling a
lever in a booth, and the social and economic issues that are important to me. they actually have very little direct connection, personally speaking. im realizing that there is a big chasm between voting once a year, and actually being active about the solution to any particular issue, or channelling your energy into something effective.

What books did you take on the last leg of tour?
malcolm gladwell’s “what the dog saw”. he’s got a knack for that sort of “pulp science” writing. im a sucker for it.

What are you reading on this leg?
“walking the dinosaur”, “righteous dope fiend”, and some other book i cant remembers. its all on my kindle.

What did Kenna bring to “Games You Can Win?”

a great voice, and a keen ear for vocal production. i had the song written and demo-ed, with me singing it, so i just sent him a lyric sheet, and the instrumental. he added the background vocal parts, and some of the little ad libby things. im thrilled with how it came out. in fact, there’s a chipotle on the east side of columbus; that’s where i got the call that he liked the song and wanted to do it.

What video games have you beaten recently?
nothing, really. i’ve been so busy in the last 2 years, i’ve only played 2 games: bioshock, and resident evil 5. looking forward to bioshock 2. thats gonna be amazing.

“A Spaceship for Now” is my cut. So futuristic…Is there anything you wish someone would invent?

thanks, man. im surprised we dont have hi fidelity wireless headphones. and ipods that you just directly interface
to exchange music. but i guess that’s the zune right? showing my horribly ingrained apple bias there.

The song that feature Phonte is very leisurely and happy, on some playing croquet type steez..What do you guys do when you hang out?
we dont get to hang too much, but its usually centered around food. its supposed to be some sort of classy soul type of song. he’s a great dude, he’s suuuuuper funny in person. totally fucking hilarious.

“A Son’s Cycle” is beautiful. Is that consistent fear in an artist life? The people’s love disappearing? When the cycle ends? Or do you in some regards look forward to it?
yea, i think so. all those guys came up with the content. i came up with the formatting, and the idea for the vocals to interweave with each other, just as the parts of the beat do the same. it just came together perfect, and the refrain at the end was something i added, cause it seemed like it was appropriate for it to really lean on the somber note of reggie’s last few lines. i love what those guys did with it. im stoked. really, in a way, i feel like that’s a first in rap music. i dont know of any other time that both 3 beats AND rhymes were woven together like that.

Is “Gyspy Caravan” inspired by the Johnny Depp movie?
no. its about the phils winning the world series. the city erupted. it was pandemonium. like 75 arrests, tons of lootings downtown, it was nuts.

“Spaceship for now” and “Gyspy Caravan” were not made in the same week were they? How do you as an artist jump moods like that?
maybe not same week, but same time, yes. its just like eating different foods. if you eat ethiopian alot, and burgers alot, its nothing to have one for lunch and one for dinner. same thing, really. no biggie. i just wanted to make sure that i treated each song respectfully; if it was gonna be a guitar song, then let it just be that. if its gonna be a wierd synth psychedelic thing, then dont go slathering guitar all over it.

What’s the cohesive link that ties it all together?

dunno. dont think there needs to be. but i do feel like im writing the same 5 chord progressions over and over. that count?

It works..Did you tivo Mad Men the first time it aired?
no. 1-i had low expectations. its on AMC! they didnt have shit in 2006. 2- by the time i realized i liked the show, it was already out on dvd.

How did that come about?
really simple. they asked to use the song. we went back and forth on some terms for a few months. once we hashed it out, that was that. done deal.

Since you can make money doing Soundtracks….what keeps you touring and making music?
aha! DEFINITELY making music. but touring? that’s a different story. i dont want to wake up in my 40’s and realize its the only lifestyle im accustomed to. so we’ll see…..

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Be Sure to Cop the Colossus..It’s a Bustown friendly banger. Buy it on on Amazon or directly from RJ.