Davis, California is a small city just west of Sacramento with a population of around sixty-eight thousand people. It’s nearly 105 years old and its claim to fame (if that’s what you want to call it) is being the home of the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. Davis is not known for its hip-hop scene or influence, but it is the home of Joshua Davis, better known to the world as DJ Shadow.
DJ Shadow got his start deejaying for the University of California, Davis campus radio station, KDVS. By that time, he was already an avid record collector and certified hip-hop head and started experimenting with sampling and creating beats. You can research the intricate details on how, but Shadow would eventually ink a deal with the British Label, Mo’ Wax, which was at the forefront of the trip-hop/alternative hip-hop sub-genre in the mid-nineties. After releasing a single and at least one EP on Mo’ Wax, Shadow would release his debut album, Endtroducing in 1996.
Shadow said he named the album Endtroducing because it was his debut album and the “end” of the production style he would use on the project, which he created entirely with only his AKAI MPC60 drum machine, a pair of turntables, Pro-Tools and a heapin’ helpin of records that he would study, chop up and dissect. Endtroducing is widely considered a classic and in 2006 it would earn itself a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums of All-Time and a ranking of 329 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of Greatest Albums of All-Time. It is also in the Guinness World Records for being the first album made completely by samples, and more importantly, Shadow gave Ali Shaheed Muhammed a shoutout in the “More Masters” section of the liner notes, so we check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.
Through the years, Endtroducing has definitely accumulated its share of fanfare, accolades and hype, but is the music worthy of all the hoopla and praise? Let’s discuss.
Best Foot Foward – DJ Shadow brilliantly chops up a collage of soundbites to introduce himself and Endtroducing to the listening audience.
Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt – Endtroducing has some great song titles, with this being one of them. The track begins with a soundbite that cleverly does the speaking for Shadow and his music, while three different piano loops create an emotionally dark mood. Then Shadow adds heavy drums and a ghostly harmony, and right before your eyes the grain instantly turns into vapors. Shadow shows off later on in the track by throwing in a few ill drum breaks and slick wah-wah guitar licks, making an already amazing record sound even better. Random factoid: A portion of this song was used in a Chevrolet commercial. I wonder how nice those Chevy checks was for the kid.
The Number Song – Metal guitars collide with hard drums, placed underneath a bunch of countdown soundbites. This reminded me of some vintage PE/Bomb Squad shit. Dope.
Changeling – Shadow combines airy vibes with plush guitar licks, sweet sax notes and rumbling drums that create a serene experience, except for that moment when the dark storm cloud moves in to disturb the peace. I’d be interested to hear Shadow’s backstory for the song title, but even without an explanation, I enjoyed the track.
Transmission 1 – This short interlude features a staticky voice speaking over a fuzzy radio frequency about dreams, transmitting and broadcasts, while a dark and dull noise lurks in the background, creating spooky tension. Listen to this shit when you’re outside by yourself in the middle of the night and I guarantee you that it’ll give you goosebumps.
What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4) – A few years before DJ Shadow released Endtroducing, he released and EP on Mo’ Wax called What Does Your Soul Look Like, which consisted of four different parts, all named after the EP’s title. Well, as I’m sure you were able to figure out based on the song title, this is Part 4 from that project. Shadow mixes and stirs the perfect loops together to create this mystical instrumental that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to do some introspective soul searching to.
Untitled – Shadow lays down a funky loop and places a random soundbite of a man talking about Maureen and her five sisters, who apparently all have voluptuous asses, but the sister with “eyes as big as Jolly Ranchers” has the beauty to match her booty. This is a super random interlude, but it left me wanting to take a gander at the backyards of these six sisters.
Stem/Long Stem – This one begins with calm instrumentation, but Shadow puts just enough tension in the music for you to sense a storm is brewing. Slowly, the storm clouds move in, and about a minute and a half into the track, you’re smashed in the face with epic EDM vibes and frantic metal chords that join forces to completely fuck your head up. The calm, temporarily, comes back in, accompanied by sophisticated violin strings, and just when you’ve recovered from the first round of musical assault, Shadow whacks you in the dome with another round of mania. This would sound great in an action movie like The Fast & The Furious (interesting enough, DJ Shadow’s “Six Days (Remix)” featuring Mos Def was on the soundtrack for the F&F third installment, Tokyo Drift in 2006). The second half of this (“Long Stem”) uses a lot of the same pieces as the former, but it never moves from its calm state, and after experiencing the brilliant chaos that was the first half, it pales in comparison. But the masterful musical work of the first half more than compensates for the second.
Transmission 2 – This interlude combines a muffled water submerged bass line with solemn piano taps that would work as the perfect theme music for Batman as he looks down at Gotham from the city’s tallest skyscraper after a successful night of crime fighting. Then his proud peace is interrupted by that damn staticky voice, fuzzy frequency and dark noise from “Transmission 1.”
Mutual Slump – I’m not sure who or what Shadow’s referencing in the song title, but he’s definitely not talking about his drums. Once again, our host puts on a clinic in drum sampling and programming with this one.
Organ Donor – Shadow brings back the organ loop that “Long Stem” began with (it reminds me of the Incredible Bongo Band organ loop that Will.i.am flipped at the beginning of Nas’ “Hip-Hop Is Dead” record) and puts a dope drum beat underneath it, turning this into an incredibly entertaining little diddly with a clever song title.
Why Hip-Hop Sucks in ’96 – The song title works as a riddle and during the middle of the smooth pimped out groove, a quick soundbite provides the answer.
Midnight In A Perfect World – Shadow brings back the musical pieces used on “Transmission 2” and adds pounding drums and a little harmony into the mix. The song title matches the wonderfully somber music to a tee.
Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain – This one starts with random soundbites about dogs on the moon and playing checkers, before the listener is greeted by a hypnotic bassline and drums, and seductive wah-wah guitar licks. Then after a short break, “Scatter Brain” shows up to the party and takes the listeners’ ears on a thrilling ride backed by frantic drums that sound like they were diagnosed with ADHD, and that Uncle Luke would be proud of. After three minutes of bouncing off the walls, Scatter Brain finally takes his medication and slowly begins to tire, bringing the record to an end. This was genius.
What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit) – Part 4 gave us mystique and Part 1 falls somewhere in between relaxing and melancholic, built around a jazzy sax sample, slick drum rolls and a soothing vocal melody. Like Part 4, this version is also very suitable for soul searching.
Transmission 3 – More of the same weird dark antics as the first two “Transmissions” with a few additional quirks to creep you out even more.
Over the course of thirteen tracks (or sixteen if you listen to it on a DSP) and just over an hour runtime, Endtroducing takes the listener on an exhilarating musical ride, as DJ Shadow showcases his layered genre-bending production style that’s rooted in hip-hop but too grand to be contained in its confines. Endtroducing combines elements of jazz, soul, rock, metal, classical, electronica and random soundbites, which all sound great, but it’s Shadow’s wide variety of drums that shine the brightest. Via a soundbite on “Grain,” Shadow warns the listener that he’s not only a student of the drums but also a teacher, and he gives a Masterclass throughout Endtroducing with an array of monster drum patterns. The music on Endtroducing creates a gumbo mix of moods, ranging from self-reflection music to exciting cinematic scores, and at least six of the album’s tracks are nuclear bombs that will leave you mesmerized and thoroughly entertained.
Shadow once said in an interview that he chose not to use rappers on Endtroducing because “lyrics were confining” and “too specific.” With the absence of the emcee on the album, you experience that limitlessness in his music. Endtroducing is an absolute classic that stands as a testament to why sampling is and should be respected as a true art form.