When Philadelphia beat maker/producer RJD2 released his 2002 debut album, Deadringer, on El-P’s Definitive Jux label, it was hailed as an instant classic, an Endtroducing for Def Jukies that not only showed the power of instrumental hip-hop but that it had heart and soul running through it. Since the release of this seminal debut RJD2 has kept more than busy, producing for artists as varied as Cage, MF Doom (under his Viktor Vaughan alias), Murs and Jack Penate and remixing the likes of Massive Attack and Yo La Tengo. Then there’s his work as Soul Position (his duo with rapper Blueprint), among many other projects. Add to this the fact that he has also released another eight albums — either solo or collaborations with other artists — and he has been somewhat prolific. While the rest of his work range in quality from good to excellent, none have really had quite the same impact as Deadringer — until Dame Fortune.
While it is unfair to compare the two albums as such — and this is at no offence to all his other albums — but it seems as though Dame Fortune is the natural successor to Deadringer — the Stillmatic to that album’s Illmatic if you will — in terms of vibe, feeling and that all important mixture of heart and soul.
Dame Fortune kicks off with the eerie synths that morph into something more powerful on “A Portal Inward.” From there you are taken on a journey that ranges from euphoric to heartbreaking and everywhere in between. The skittery but energetic beats of “The Roaming Hoard” give way to the Jordan Brown fronted soulful wonder “Peace Of What,” a Main Source sampling monster of a song that sounds uplifting, haunting and massive all at the same time. It’s precisely here that you know that you are listening to something special. In fact, there is not a weak track on Dame Fortune. From the wholesome funk of “The Sheboygan Left” to the beat heavy “A New Theory” to the passionate “We Come Alive” featuring Son Little to the gigantic sounds of “Your Nostalgic Heart And Lung,” which sounds like how a meeting between Warp alumni Hudson Mohawke and Rustie would sound, there is simply not a misstep on the entire album.
It is best to devour this masterpiece whole in one sitting but there are three tracks that deserve special mention as they are all brilliant songs full of an emotion that can’t be faked: the heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring “Up In The Clouds” (a song that features a stunning verse from Soul Position partner Blueprint); the Phonte Coleman from Little Brother guesting on “Saboteur,” a beautifully stirring song that can’t help but put a smile on your face; and the sublime “PF, Day One,” a graceful string led track inspired by the tragic shooting of Michael Brown. All three of these songs are emotional, anthemic and stand out on an album packed full of highlights. When the final strains of album closer “Portals Outward” ring out, you want to hear it again immediately.
You can’t say that Dame Fortune is a return to form for RJD2 but this is an album that is sublime, eclectic, triumphant, heartfelt and simply wonderful. Dame Fortune is an album with a hip-hop heart and an emotive soul that you will just want to play again and again.