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The Low Profile Life of RJD2.

June 6, 2014
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RJD2GDsmall17Text and images by Grace Dickinson.

Ramble John Khron, better known as RJ, the man behind electronica sounds of RJD2, wanders into Reading Terminal and heads straight to DiNic’s. Without hesitation, he orders the pulled pork and then grabs a spot at the counter, loading up on the hot peppers before diving in.

It’s a rare occasion for RJ. Trekking from West Philly, his neighborhood for the past 12 years, RJ only makes it downtown once every few months. When he does, DiNic’s lands itself among a  handful of memorable spots he chooses to revisit.

“I hate to say this but I’m kind of a food snob,” says RJ.

He simultaneously shrugs his shoulders and shudders his body after the label leaves his mouth.

It doesn’t take long before DiNic’s co-owner Joe Nicolosi leaves his cutting board and wanders over to say hello to the multi-instrumentalist who has performed around the world – but sits alone at the counter. Conversation quickly jumps to RJ’s son, Charlie, and the new group music classes in which the 2-year-old is enrolled.

“Outside of fatherhood, my life’s not as interesting these days,” RJ says. “I’m a dad  through-and-through. That’s what I do.”

In January, RJ wrote on his Twitter, “Please send SERIOUS email inquiries only for my 2 yr old son to do beats on your record. Not responsible for off-beat drum hits.”

The music lessons seem to be going alright.

Charlie fits into a large part of RJ’s typical day, which consists of waking before the sun rises for some coffee and eggs (cereal, if he’s in a rush), “daddying” from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., hitting the studio in his backyard from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and then returning to care for Charlie until he goes to sleep, generally around 11 p.m. –  unless he’s out performing.

When RJ leaves for a gig, the 37-year-old is a one-night-per-city kind of guy. Early morning plane flights are his jam, like Gruyere is his butter on bread. Currently in the midst of a tour for his fifth full-length album, More Is Than Isn’t, RJ explains that this is one of the reasons he loves living in Philadelphia – its airport. The location, abundance of flights and short travel time to a lot of the major cities enable RJ to remain a family man.

“Compared to [New York City] real estate, you also get a really low cost of living in a very creative place that has this super long pedigree of music,” says RJ. “The guys who come out of here as musicians are serious. They have their shit together.”

RJ himself is serious in demeanor, with an attitude that shows little lust for stardom. He walks around town on a mission, looking to get in and get out and return to the comfort of his wife and child who wait for him in a location that speaks primarily of practicality.
He relies on the quick, direct flights from the Philly airport, and is humbled to have the large front porch and backyard outside his fenced-in, West Philly home.

In 2002, RJ transplanted from Ohio with his then-girlfriend, who is now his wife. After using Philadelphia as a base to build his family and fame, he confirms he holds zero thoughts to move any of that to another city.

“There’s no other place I’d rather live,” he says.

It’s clear RJ enjoys a quiet, low-profile style of living and wishes to keep the fame of his career tucked away behind the on-stage DJ station he visits when traveling. You can find him there, behind multiple turntables, anywhere between two to six times per month.

The conversation RJ holds with Nicolosi about Charlie will be the first and last time his son is mentioned throughout the day. That side of his life isn’t for public consumption, he says.

On the rare day RJ isn’t on Charlie-duty, his stage name’s Facebook page exposes a rather accurate synopsis of what you could expect him to be doing with his time outside of music.

It reads, “Band interests: Cooking food, eating food, power tools, soldering iron.”

There are a few activities he leaves out of his facebook profile, like feeding a major coffee addiction and loading up on records, but he shares his day with us.

PURE FARE: RJ drinks coffee three times per day, though not just any coffee. He sticks strictly to macchiatos and says he hasn’t had a sip of drip coffee in 15 years. “I hate to be called a ‘coffee snob’ too,” he says. Leading up to lengthy tours, he’ll wean himself off two weeks in advance because he refuses to have to drink a cheap cup of joe while on the road. “I’d rather have a headache than drink bad coffee,” he says. It suffices to say he owns his own espresso machine at home.

LONG IN THE TOOTH: This is RJ’s longest stop of the day. “I’ve got to be careful at record stores because I could waste a whole day in them,” he says while browsing through the soul section. He walks out with eight records and then snags a few more from a box of free ones sitting outside. His current favorite records of all time: “Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean’s first mixtape,” he says. “It’s fucking amazing.” D’Angelo’s Voodoo tops his list, too.

RJD2GDsmall18HARDWARE STORE: “There’s a satisfaction I get from building something that’s comparable to making a song,” says RJ who is currently constructing his own compressor boards. His favorite hobby is building things, which brings him to the hardware store often. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s the dude equivalent of shoes. I love to buy tools, and I like fixing things.”

RJD2GDsmall01MILK & HONEY: RJ does most of his eating at home. Since Charlie was born, his wife is the primary chef, but RJ says he will make time to get in the kitchen himself every once in awhile. His go-to? “Sautéed or baked seafood with a pesto or jerk sauce, side of rice and sautéed greens,” he says. He picks up some cheese before heading home. “Gruyere and gouda are pretty high life priorities,” he adds.

THE HOME STUDIO: RJ’s studio is situated in a small yellow shed just behind his house. This is where he produces the beats for his largely instrumental albums, fiddles around with his tools and stores much of his son’s outdated toys. Part mancave, part garage, part studio, this is where RJ spends the largest portion of most days.

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