"Though hardly the first-ever rap record with cantorial aspirations, The Love Below
flashed a cultural green light for hip-hoppers to break into song-or to at least bust the chains of hip-hop formalism. Self-avowed Andre 3000 aficionado RJD2 took the cue and ran. Among the many surprises on Since We Last Spoke
, perhaps the biggest is that the graceful producer fully flexes his vocal prowess: no rapping, just singing, in tones every bit as decent as a Ben Gibbard and, with a first-timer's sincerity and imperfection, probably more interesting. After following up his beloved solo debut, Dead Ringer
, with three plates of straightforward rap production (for Aceyalone, Diverse and Blueprint), RJ figure-eights, employing hip-hop means to rock-band ends. He hasn't shaken off his '70s soul vibrations, but the adventurous yet true-blue hip-hop of Dead Ringer
is present here
in motivation only. A wizard on his wicked MPC, this is a sampled producer's record that sounds like a pop album: breakbeats have given way to brooding psych-prog allusions and music-box erhu; scratching is near-missing, but big-time guitar solos abound; zero guest MCs make more room for RJ's own breathy voice, or a chorus of ladies cooing ""oohs."" Crafted with elegance and restraint, these songs spread like fancy Dijon.