"Since We Last Spoke"
The terms "rap" and "hip-hop" are often used interchangeably, but as rap has become more mainstream, some hip-hoppers have scurried in the opposite direction. In the pioneering tradition of collagist DJ Shadow and conjurer Tricky, such audio experimentalists as RJD2, Rob Sonic and Diplo are teaching synths, samplers and turntables some new tricks.
"Since We Last Spoke," RJD2's second album, shows wider range than his debut, "Dead Ringer." That's not altogether a good thing. From the prog-rock prelude "Exotic Talk" to the wistful synth-pop ballad "Making Days Longer," there's something here to disconcert almost any listener -- especially a rap purist shocked at how song-oriented the disc is. Still, the DJ's juxtapositions are always skillful and frequently inspired. Whether setting his soft-funk jams and down-tempo electro-shuffles underwater or in outer space, RJD2 constructs tracks worthy of such titles as "Iced Lightning."
The solo debut of Sonic Sum's Rob Sonic, "Telicatessen" is the most traditional -- and insistent -- of these three albums. The Bronx-bred Sonic raps on most of the tracks, and his voice is mixed up front. Yet his loops and beats rival the vocals, which turn into near-mechanical chants on such rollicking mantras as "New Car Smell." The vibe is communal and party-oriented on "Sniper Picnic," which features Creature and Hangar 18, but such standout tracks as the throbbing "Shoplift" are just a man and his machine.
A member of Philadelphia's Hollertronix, Diplo grew up in the state that provides the title of his impressive new album, "Florida." But these complex compositions sound more like Bristol, home of influential Brit-hop prodigies Massive Attack and Tricky. In fact, onetime Tricky muse Martina Topley-Bird sings on the lovely "Into the Sun," warbling over an electronic slipstream. Diplo's style encompasses everything from rubbery tabla beats ("Indian Thick Jawns") to Steve Reich-like string ostinatos ("Big Lost"), yet the results never sound chaotic or forced. While "Florida" may be off the map by commercial hip-hop standards, Diplo sounds entirely at home out there.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Wednesday at the Black Cat. * To hear a free Sound Bite from RJD2, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8130; to hear Rob Sonic, press 8131; to hear Diplo, press 8132. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)