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Re-Endtroducing . . .
DJ Shadow’s landmark album gets a facelift
Related Links

DJ Shadow's official Web site

Michael Endelman reviews DJ Shadow's first full length, The Private Press.

"What does your soul look like?" DJ Shadow asked that very un-hip-hop question on his 1996 debut, Endtroducing . . . (Quannum). Making use of discarded vinyl recordings, the CD encouraged experimentation in a genre that had been overrun by corporate money men and MTV; it also brought the art of the turntable back to a sample-centered genre, merging hip-hop, trip-hop, and electronica. And it influenced Quasimoto, Cut Chemist, Mix Master Mike, and dozens of others who dug Shadow’s crate-digging æsthetic. Yet the press-wary Shadow (a/k/a Josh Davis) has released just one proper album since, 2002’s Private Press. A third disc is said to be in the works. Meanwhile, fans have the remastered Endtroducing Deluxe Edition (Universal), which includes a bonus disc of alternate takes, remixes, and live material.

"I do think that my issues of self-doubt and self-esteem come through in the music," DJ Shadow says in Continuum Books’ 33-1/3 mini-book on Endtroducing. "Maybe that’s what resonates with people who feel ignored by a lot of what the music machine is supposed to offer, which is sexuality and macho aggression."

Shadow adds that he was in "despair" and often "depressed" during the making of Endtroducing, which indeed is more claustrophobic than liberating, with its samples of self-involved music teachers, classic rappers, Korean Michael Jackson impersonators, paranoid crime victims, and lines like "Maureen’s got five sisters/They all got ass/One of them has eyes as big as Jolly Ranchers." "I think it went a long way toward legitimizing the idea of ‘instrumental hip-hop,’ " says Oliver Wang, editor and co-author of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide (ECW Press).

Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (St. Martin’s Press) and co-founder of the SoleSides label along with DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel (Blackalicious), and Lyrics Born, goes farther: "The first thing I remember was that it transformed the way rock bands produced their drum sound. From Oasis to Radiohead to Tortoise, bands started to have a more syncopated, New Orleans type of feel to their drums. I think that had a lot to do with the breaks and æsthetics that Shadow favored and championed. Endtroducing pushed hip-hop beyond the craft of making a song for the mix or the dance floor or the radio. It made it cool to be a DJ again, and extra cool to be a record nerd."

The bonus disc, Excessive Ephemera, offers slightly different alternate versions of "Best Foot Forward" and "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt." "The Number Song" enjoys a sunny remix by Cut Chemist complete with breezy acoustic guitar, a reverb noisy drum track, super funk samples, and unnecessary extra scratching and rapping. A sample of Robert De Niro directing deadly ventures in Heat heightens the intensity but detracts from the music in "Stem"; B-sides "Soup" and "Red Bus Needs To Leave" explore Shadow’s thinking process with buoyant breaks and druggy atmospheres. And a 12-minute live snippet of Shadow performing "Midnight. . ." in Oxford in 1997 is a testament to his scratching skills, with added harmonica, glowing keyboards, titanic beat, and vocal samples.

It’s no surprise that Shadow first blew up in Great Britain, where avant-turntablists Coldcut and trip-hoppers Massive Attack were rewriting hip-hop’s rules. But as Chang says, "All due respect to my homies at Ninja Tune, but they didn’t influence what Shadow was doing. Shadow’s concept was to explore instrumental hip-hop as begun by Grandmaster Flash on ‘Adventures on the Wheels of Steel’ and Steinski in his Lessons through DJ Chuck Chillout and DJ Red Alert and on up to the productions of Bomb Squad, Marley Marl, Pete Rock, and Dr. Dre. At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I think that’s why Endtroducing has lasted while so much other music that Shadow was lumped with at the time has not."

You could argue that Massive Attack, Coldcut, Portishead, and other trip-hoppers and Ninja Tune DJs have lasted, but that’s not the point. A record-collecting nerdy white kid from Davis, California, transformed hip-hop. And with the reissue of Entroducing, we get another opportunity to revel in his unlikely brilliance.

Issue Date: July 1 - 7, 2005
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