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RJD2  

When considering the recent fuss over his latest incarnation, RJD2 seems unfazed: "Somebody's gonna be disappointed one way or another. It's inevitable." Truth is, his shift from hip-hop to pop isn't all that shocking. While RJD2 has spent his career freaking an MPC sampler and some turntables, a knack for songcraft has always shone through. In fact, RJ's instrumental rap jams always seem to follow a basic pop structure (unlike those of DJ Shadow, to whom he's often compared). Of course, it's easy to spot such differences when there's a singer leading the way. Pretty much every track on his latest disc, The Third Hand, is sung -- and sung surprisingly well -- by RJ himself.

On the musical tip, Hand relies heavily on instrumentation instead of the cut-and-paste sampling RJ is known for. A lot of artists may recycle their usual shtick to please fans, but he says, "I'd rather do something that, unfortunately, may turn a few people away -- if it's something that I can do 3000 percent and know this is what I'm passionate about -- than do something that people expect, half-assed."

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