Headliner: RJD2

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Being your own boss can be a bitch sometimes, but these days it's the only way for RJD2.

Last year the Columbus native, born Ramble John Krohn, set aside his affiliations with Definitive Jux and XL Records and reissued his old albums and a box set on his own label, RJ's Electrical Connections. The Colossus, the latest LP Krohn cooked up in his Philadelphia home studio, became the label's first original offering last month.

"It's both freeing and shackling," Krohn said. "It's freeing in the sense that I don't have the concern about what I can and can't do with the future. So if I decide to release an album three months from now, in theory I can.

"In terms of I have less work, then no, I'm shackled to my BlackBerry and my laptop at all hours of the f---ing day, which isn't the most freeing thing. But at the same time it's certainly the most sustainable way to go about making music."

For Krohn, starting his own label is the next logical step in a career that's confounded expectations and defied convention. After signing to the prestigious Def Jux label and rocketing to underground stardom with 2002's crate-digging opus Deadringer, he inched from instrumental hip-hop toward sleek pop songcraft on follow-up Since We Last Spoke.

For 2007's The Third Hand, Krohn eschewed samples, Def Jux and hip-hop altogether in favor of indie-pop and blue-eyed soul. He performed the entire album himself, including vocals, and released it on the rock-centric XL label. A year later, his "A Beautiful Mine" became the theme song for AMC's Mad Men.

The Colossus is Krohn's attempt to survey everything he's done in the past decade: "Working with rappers, working with singers, sample-based music and doing some live music." The grab-bag approach is yet another left turn for an artist whose albums have always shined for their consistency.

On "A Son's Cycle," he features Columbus rappers The Catalyst, Illogic and N.P., keeping ties strong to the scene that birthed him. He also continues to use local legends Derek DiCenzo, Happy Chichester and Sam Brown as his touring band for the show that's coming to Skully's on Friday.

Krohn, of course, is operating as his own tour manager, which means he's responsible for taking care of his band, driver and sound guy plus an incredible load of equipment.

"On top of that, I have two costume changes and a wireless MIDI remote suit thing that I need to manage," Krohn said. "There's an enormous amount of stuff to go wrong. And to top it all off, I don't ever put these shows together the traditional way."

This show is no exception. Besides RJ's usual array of turntable work and full-band performance, he's starting and ending the show wearing the aforementioned MIDI suit, a series of electronic music triggers built into a device on his belt that spins around like a ZZ Top guitar.

"It's on my crotch, basically," Krohn explained.

The idea for the device sprung from Krohn's 2006 tour with Soul Position, his hip-hop duo with Columbus rapper Blueprint. Krohn wired his sampler to wear around his neck so he could perform at the front of the stage.

"I would basically come out and play the MPC and we would do these dumb little dances," Krohn said. "It was stupid and funny, but it worked."

He couldn't have crafted a better career synopsis than that.