“The album shuffles between moody, soulful beats and triumphant, horn-anchored tracks” – Rolling Stone
“RJ’s well able to inject spirit and spontaneity into tunes new and old in the live setting, certainly better than most beatmakers and producers out there” – Philadelphia Weekly
“[STS is] unique in style, creative in approach” – Red Bull Sound Select
“STS has the best of both worlds as far as what he offers as an MC: consistent bars, dazzling wordplay, and a Southern bravado” – HipHopWired
RJD2 and STS are more than two ships passing in the night. Both men hail from Philadelphia and are rooted in Southern traditions. Originally a native of Columbus, Ohio, RJD2 is a lifelong advocate of Southern funk and soul, a muse he has explored since his 2002 classic debut, Deadringer. STS was born in Tennessee and raised in Atlanta, a lineage that resonates in his dirty bottom drawl.Read more
Together, they’ve made a hip-hop album that defies expectations. It’s built around STS’ lyricism, and techniques he has refined while collaborating with The Roots – he has appeared on the Philly heroes’ last three albums, including 2014’s And Then You Shoot Your Cousin – trading bars in Black Thought’s super-group the Money Making Jam Boys, and issuing mixtapes and albums such as 2011’s The Illustrious. But it is also richly soulful, thanks to RJ, who plays a variety of keyboards, synths, and guitars (leaning heavily on the Fender Rhodes and ARP 2600), as well as bass and drums, and arranges the sounds over crisp, sparkling breakbeats.
“I’m a writer first,” says STS, who was mentored by producers Dre & Vidal, and has written hooks for Ciara, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott and others. Before launching his rap career, STS was a poet who appeared on Def Poetry Jam.
RJD2 needs little introduction. His 2002 debut, Deadringer, is widely hailed as a hip-hop classic. His track “A Beautiful Mine” serves as theme music to the iconic Mad Men. And he has a history of great collaborations, from beginning his career in the late 90s as part of the underground fan favorite MHz; and launching the group Soul Position with Columbus rap veteran Blueprint; to producing Aceyalone’s indie classic Magnificent City, which led to “A Beautiful Mine”; and joining forces with singer Aaron Livingston for the critically acclaimed Icebird project.
STS and RJD2 met through singer Khari Mateen when the three worked on “See You Leave” for RJD2’s 2013 album More Is Than Isn’t. “I thought, ‘Man, I had so much fun making music with this guy. I don’t want the relationship to end there,” says RJ.
The two didn’t plan on making an album: RJ simply emailed STS beats to write to. But within several months’ time, the two accumulated dozens of finished songs. They utilized local singers Jordan Brown, Othniel Chambers, Aimless Lee, and Domi Jo. RJ, who has memorably harmonized on his past albums – check “You Never Had it So Good” from his 2010 album The Colossus for proof – joined the singers, resulting in a congregation of background choruses.
And the subject matter is diverse, too. There is “Tenneesee (Whiskey Revival),” which is inspired by STS’ drink of choice as well as his birthplace, and “All I Wanted Was a Caddy,” which notes how STS’ family had Cadillacs back in the day. On the flip side, STS values East Coast hip-hop, resulting in lyrically introspective songs like “Monsters Under My Bed,” where he deals with regret over some incidents in his past. “You don’t get a name like Sugar Tongue Slim” unless you’ve been in the streets, says STS. “But I’m conscious, too, because I’m conscious of what I’m saying.”
Says RJ, “STS meets a number of criteria for me. For one, he has a great voice. His sense of rhythm is really great. He’s a funny guy – that’s a plus. And the other thing is that he has a way of taking a thought that has deep meaning to it, and making it seem innocuous.”
Coupled with RJ’s outstanding production, the result is cruisin’ music, and blue-collar hip-hop that everyone can relate to.
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Premiered by The A.V. Club, Philadelphia-Based Producer/Rapper Duo RJD2 & STS Release Self-Titled Collaborative Album
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All photos by Reji B.