Three years after taking a detour into pop/rock with The Third Hand, artist/producer RJD2 returns with The Colossus. As the first album released through RJD2's own record label, The Colossus is his first major release to feature hip-hop in six years. While it isn't without some missteps, this is still a welcome return to form.
RJD2 kicks things off in grand fashion with the excellent instrumental "Let There Be Horns." The song, with its forceful horns and strings, is a bold proclamation of the artists’ return. The track even ends with a chorus of cheers and applause in the background.
The other instrumental tracks fare pretty well too. Live flute courtesy of Heather Fortune give "Tin Flower" a mellow feel that gets utterly destroyed by the end of the song. "Small Plans" is a sort of controlled chaos as vocal samples, electronics, and other instruments shift around each other. Vocal samples are also put to good use on "The Stranger," the creepy cousin of "The Horror."
While The Colossus has RJD2 returning to hip-hop, it is not without some pop elements. Fortunately, he seems to have learned from his previous album and handed off most of the vocal work. Kenna is a welcome presence on "Games You Can Win." Their styles work well together and hopefully, this is not the last time they collaborate.
Phonte Coleman of Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange shows off his singing chops on "The Shining Path." The song has a nice, old-school R&B feel to it complete with some nice harmonies. There is also one vocal hip-hop track, "A Son's Cycle" featuring The Catalyst, Illogic, and NP. The lyrics aren't much to write home about, but the production is amazing. The beat doesn't stay the same and changes to fit each MC.
The Colossus falters mainly whenever RJD2 decides to provide vocals. "Gypsy Caravan" is a failed attempt at 1960's-style rock. It's out-of-place to the point that it is almost unintentionally funny.
On the other hand, "The Glow" is polarizing. It's a song you kind of like and hate at the same time. There are elements here that could make a great song but they're spoiled by silly lyrics. The main refrain of "Got the glow!" is a little annoying but manages to stay in your head. What "The Glow" seems to be going for is better achieved in the album's closer "Walk With Me." That track, with its bouncy, old-school beat is genuinely fun from start to finish.
If there's one theme that runs throughout The Colossus, it is acknowledging your past and looking towards the future. The album is balanced between the hip-hop fans have come to expect and the pop leanings of his more recent work. It contains a sequel to "Salud," an interlude from Deadringer as well as subtle reference to that album's "Introduction."
It is a solid album from one of the more interesting and innovative artists out there, hip-hop or otherwise. There's no telling if RJD2's next work will be more pop-oriented, more hip-hop oriented, or something else entirely. However, as long as he focuses on making good music, we will be anticipating what's next.