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RJD2's 2002 album, Dead Ringer, was a pitch-perfect mix of soul-filled, funky instrumental hip-hop and a showcase for guest rhymers like Copywrite and Blueprint. But the Columbus-based producer seems determined to prove that he can succeed without help -- and with a wider array of styles than just his trademark blues- and funk-filled hip-hop. The title of this second album seems like a confident claim that RJ is more than just "the next DJ Shadow."

Unfortunately, RJ offers, as proof of his evolution, several token songs that feel far too contrived and, for varying reasons, fall flat in the end. "Exotic Talk" funks so hard, with its rollicking rock-guitar samples, that when it cools off for introspective and delicate sampladelics, it feels insubstantial and unfulfilling. RJ adds his own vocals on a couple of cuts, but "Making Days Longer" proves that he can't sing nearly as soulfully as he can sample.

Luckily, he limited his next-level aspirations to these few tracks and stocked the rest of Since We Last Spoke with more of his signature patchwork genius, proving that he still has an unerring ear for quality long-form sampling. He opens the album with grandiose funk-filled crescendos on the title cut and throws down a three-song suite mid-CD that mashes up a whole gang of sweaty guitar licks, horn stabs, and aching vocal snippets. RJ brings something fresh out of each discarded piece and actually makes it sound easy. If only crafting entire songs were so simple. -- Steve Boughton

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