RJD2’s music has been dubbed “instrumental hip-hop” by the categorization-hungry music press, and it’s a classification that confuses some. As most of the attention paid to mainstream hip hop is directed squarely toward the rappers involved, largely unnoticed are the DJs who tirelessly craft background soundscapes over which these millionaire “gangstas” lay down tales of prostitutes, automatic firearms and anger. RJD2, one of these very DJs, has so far assembled three albums of the fruits of his labor. Since We Last Spoke, the latest in the line, presents 12 tracks, all the result of what must have been intense hours sweating over the turntables, mixing board and sampler.

Stylistically, the record has much more in common with ambient electronica than anything that exemplifies the domain of hip hop. RJD2’s material is a patchwork, a crazy quilt intricately sewn together out of hundreds – maybe thousands – of forgotten recordings, with synthesizer fills and extra vocal shots thrown in for good measure. As jarring as that composition process may seem, the samples have been arranged in such a way that they very nearly blend into a cohesive whole.

As a listening experience, Since We Last Spoke is well-represented by the album art. The faux-distressed-vinyl cover features a collage-built creature with the body of some sort of scary underwater organism, the tail of a seahorse and twin security cameras protruding from its rear end. Depicted in the notes is what appears to be a hybrid between an automobile transmission and a jellyfish. Indeed, RJD2’s music is the same: a little bit mechanical, a touch organic, possessed of an electronic undercurrent and bizarre at first glance.

[When Colin Marshall sees guys like Chingy, he wonders why all hip hop can’t be instrumental.]