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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. hones and expands its sound

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. raised eyebrows, at least a bit, with "Produce," a hip-hop mixtape it released earlier this year featuring collaborations with Murs, Asher Roth, Chuck Inglish, 112's Slim and more.

But the Detroit-formed group's Josh Epstein says the 16-track set, which follows the duo's 2013 sophomore album "The Speed of Things," has had little trouble converting any skeptics.

"People have told us it's helped them contextualize our other records," explains Epstein, who now resides in Los Angeles while DEJJ partner Daniel Zott remains in Detroit. "I think that the more sides of yourself and the more personality you show people, the easier it is for them to understand where everything that you've made fits in the context of your style and your overall aesthetic.

"So I think that putting out the mixtape, this contextualized some of our first and second records in terms of some of the hip-hop influences and just kind of where we are in terms of melody and rhythm. We want to just make things that we're inspired to make, and hopefully people will stay with us."

DEJJ is in the midst of making something new, too. Epstein says he and Zott are working on their third album, and he says the duo is "approaching it really open-minded," writing with the members of its live band as well as with "The Speed of Things" producer Ben West and some hip-hop producers in Los Angeles.

"We're still trying to figure out what the record is going to be," Epstein says. "We have a ton of songs and are really excited by them. There's some stuff that feels a little bit more band-y. It's feeling like the easiest thing ever. The songs are just kind of pouring out, and they feel great. They feel like we don't even have to tweak them at all.

"I think making the mixtape helped gut us on a really cool creative path, in a cool zone and really relaxed. If something is good it's good and we go for it, if not we go on to the next thing. It's a pretty fertile time right now."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Tunde Olaniran perform Saturday, April 19, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

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