DJ Shadow: ’96 ’til Infinity
TAP TAP TAP. “JUST MAKING SURE IT WORKS,” SAYS JOSH DAVIS AFFABLY AS BRAINER WRESTLES WITH ITS NO-GOOD-SOON-TO-BE-THROWN-DOWN-THE-TOILET DICTAPHONE. SITTING DOWN IN A PLUSH ARMCHAIR, THE OPULENT TOWNHOUSE IN THE HEART OF CLERKENWELL, LONDON seems a funny place to be chatting to someone as unassuming as the man we all know as DJ Shadow. Looking unassailably crisp in a grey t-shirt, jeans and an Undefeated baseball cap, he’s laid back. Slow talking. Very California cool.
“Believe me, I’m not trying to say I’m as good as these people – but when you say, ‘What is a David Lynch movie like?’ – well, it’s David Lynch. A Woody Allen movie is Woody Allen. They’re extensions of their personalities,” says Shadow. “I was a hip-hop purist – as die hard as they came. There’s a time and a place for that aesthetic, but once the music crosses over and becomes the domain of groups I frankly don’t care for, like Limp Bizkit, or you hear scratching in a Hanson song, at that point the battlefront has shifted and now it’s time for something else.”
In the beginning, there was ‘Endtroducing…’. Released in 1996 on James Lavelle’s iconic Mo’ Wax label, Shadow’s debut long player – painstakingly
produced on an AKAI MPC60 using samples mined from a vast vinyl collection – revealed a hitherto unseen face of hip-hop; it offered a glimpse at what hip-hop could be. Rather than echo the swaggering G-Funk of Dre, or bring the boom and bap like Pete Rock and Premier, ‘Endtroducing…’ was not only purely instrumental, it ushered in a mélange of sounds not often associated with the genre (in the process opening the doors for a slew of copycats peddling watered down versions of the ‘Endtroducing…’ sound). It was emotionally haunting, and at times emphatically raw. But even in those early days, by his own admission, it was never a purist hip-hop record. And that was the blueprint.
In the fifteen years since ‘Endtroducing…’, each record the Californian producer has released has been, in terms of genre, indefinable. 2002’s ‘The Private Press’ saw Shadow embellish on his sampling skills with flare, at times straying from the steady 4/4 hip-hop break, and 2006’s ‘The Outsider’ – raising a furor amongst the sweaty, pale, bespectacled die-hard Shadow fans with its inclusion of tough Hyphy – engaged in some serious genre switcheroo. From Bay Area rap, to blues, to psychedelic funk, acoustic ballads and yes, more, the album departed with the MPC and embraced an electronic edge, simultaneously providing us with some of the producer’s most ethereal work to date.