"Though hardly the first-ever rap record with cantorial aspirations, The Love Below flashed a cultural green light for hip-hoppers to break into song-or to at least bust the chains of hip-hop formalism. Self-avowed Andre 3000 aficionado RJD2 took the cue and ran. Among the many surprises on Since We Last Spoke, perhaps the biggest is that the graceful producer fully flexes his vocal prowess: no rapping, just singing, in tones every bit as decent as a Ben Gibbard and, with a first-timer's sincerity and imperfection, probably more interesting. After following up his beloved solo debut, Dead Ringer, with three plates of straightforward rap production (for Aceyalone, Diverse and Blueprint), RJ figure-eights, employing hip-hop means to rock-band ends. He hasn't shaken off his '70s soul vibrations, but the adventurous yet true-blue hip-hop of Dead Ringer is present herein motivation only. A wizard on his wicked MPC, this is a sampled producer's record that sounds like a pop album: breakbeats have given way to brooding psych-prog allusions and music-box erhu; scratching is near-missing, but big-time guitar solos abound; zero guest MCs make more room for RJ's own breathy voice, or a chorus of ladies cooing ""oohs."" Crafted with elegance and restraint, these songs spread like fancy Dijon. "