On his 1996 debut album Endtroducing, DJ Shadow established a name for himself in the world of experimental hip-hop with stand-out tracks like “Midnight in a Perfect World” and “What Does Your Soul Feel Like, Parts 1-4.” Shadow’s work on this first disc for London-based Mo' Wax records was key in the development of experimental, electronic hip-hop. His third solo CD, The Outsider, has been a long time coming.
On the new album, Shadow, a.k.a. Josh Davis, combines his familiar-yet-fresh blend of funk, rock, hip-hop, ambient, jazz, soul, and used-vinyl bin elements that we’ve come to love. The first single, Enuff, came out earlier this year, and is a scorching hot dance track.
Illustration by Slip over at Minefield.org
This album is perfectly clean. Not one note, not one beat, not one word is wasted, out-of-place, or over-the-top. Shadow’s blend of various styles, intelligent lyrics, impeccable timing, and skillful production are all in peak form on this record.
Since Endtroducing, Shadow’s put out a second solo album, two mix albums, a live album, and a DVD&emdash;on four different labels. Not to mention his collaborative work: 1) the brilliant two-track set with Cut Chemist called Brainfreeze, widely distributed as a digital bootleg, 2) co-writing, remixing, and production on tracks for the likes of DJ Krush, and Dr. Octagon, and 3) production for the debut album by trip-hop supergroup UNKLE, which featured guests like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, and Mike D of the Beastie Boys.
Shadow sticks with his trademark experimental mode for the first half of The Outsider. The album starts with a bizarre prophetic voice ominously intoning the impending implosion of human society under our unending lust for information and entertainment. It then segues into a pure 70s funk/disco throwback, “This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way)”, before moving into haunting vocals and strings which echo the Canadian electronic/world band Delerium. (You may remember them for the track “Silence,” which featured Sarah McLachlan and was remixed by DJ Tiesto for endless club-play. My former roommate remembers that song from my playing it on repeat for 5 hours.) Alt-rock guitar and vocals on tracks like “The Tiger” are reminiscent of UNKLE.
The second half of the album borrows and builds on sounds from the Northern Californian rap style, featuring fellow Bay Area natives Keak da Sneak, E-40, and Lateef, as well as David Banner and Q-Tip. One late album stand-out is the cautionary tale of betrayal and robbery, “Keep Em Close” — “keep your friends close / but those that you wanna rob / keep them closer.” The song features bad-ass rhyming by Nump and Jalapeno-hot production. Another is the self-deprecatingly debauched "Backstage Girl", which has a hilarious MySpace reference and morning-after regret: “I woke up the next morning all tangled up in her hair / and that’s when I knew she had me right where she wanted me / she told me I’d taken her places she’d never been before / but really, she took me to a place I promised myself I’d never return to.”
Know anyone who can relate?
Although he grew up in lower-middle-class suburb of San Francisco, Josh Davis has street cred. He recounts being the only white suburban hip-hop fan among the hard rock/new wave-dominated 80s. His early love of turntable and drums led him to work his way through hip-hop crews featuring prominent DJs, such as Ultramagnetic MCs and Public Enemy, groups that prominently featured DJs in their ranks. While attending UC Davis (the town), Davis (the DJ) established his own label for his original tracks. Reconstructed from the Ground Up in 1991 and the 17-minute symphony "Entropy" came shortly, gaining a lot of underground play until Mo’Wax caught on to his groove. Preemptive Strike, a compilation of those early singles, followed Endtroducing in early 1998.
This disc is a must have for any fan of hip-hop or of DJ Shadow; it’s one of my favorite discs this year, in any genre. The Outsider will enhance any music collection which includes electronic, hip-hop, rap, funk, jazz, ambient, post-millennium alt-rock, and world music. If you have a sense of rhythm at all, buy The Outsider.