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Music You Should Hear: DJ Shadow - Endtroducing..... (1996)

1996 | Instrumental Hip Hop Experimental Hip Hop

✩✩✩✩✩ | 5/5

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  1. Best Foot Forward

  2. Building Steam With a Grain of Sand

  3. The Number Song

  4. Changeling

  5. Transmission 1

  6. What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4)

  7. Untitled

  8. Stem / Long Stem

  9. Mutual Slump

  10. Organ Donor

  11. Why Hip Hop Sucks in '96

  12. Midnight In a Perfect World

  13. Napalm Brain / Scatter Brain

  14. What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 - Blue Sky Revisit)

  15. Transmission 3

DJ Shadow was perhaps the most crucial individual to instrumental hip hop during the 1990's. Taking influence from the likes of Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow recycled the sounds of the past and developed them into a wholly new, unique, and enrapturing project. Endtroducing is composed virtually entirely of samples, hundreds of them. From big names like Pink Floyd, The Meters, Metallica, Beastie Boys, and Björk, to the horror film Prince of Darkness, to the hundreds of samples from history's nearly forgotten rap, jazz, funk, soul, and pop artists, Endtroducing pulls sounds from wherever DJ Shadow felt most moved. He has qualified his "strategy" or ethos behind sampling as a sort of journey; keep digging until somethings connects. He's always on the look-out for the perfect sample. Unfortunately this strategy seems pretty hit and miss as DJ Shadow has never been able to approach the glory he achieved on Endtroducing and his 1994 EP What Does Your Soul Look Like ever again. During the 2-year long process of making Endtroducing DJ Shadow would spend hours a day crate digging, searching for that next sample.

Fortunately, what he achieved on Endtroducing is truly, unbelievably, and undeniably amazing. Endtroducing manages to create an enormous variety of sound, texture, atmosphere, and feeling throughout its run. Take "The Number Song" which is dense and consuming, being built around heavy drum beats. Compare that to "Midnight In a Perfect World"'s open, inviting sound and lively vocals. DJ Shadow managed to create songs which feel fully realized, purely by recontextualizing preexisting musical ideas. Like one of those forced perspective 3D sculptures, music like this lives on the close edge of being incoherent and unfulfilling. But if it's put together just right, and if all the parts work just the way they are intended the very composite nature of it all sloughs away and reveals something beautiful and eye catching. There many other albums who utilize sample-based music to amazing effect, from the likes of J Dilla, MF DOOM, Nujabes, or The Avalanches. But Endtroducing succeeds in doing something that to my mind no other album has, it transports my mind and makes the very fact that I am consuming a piece of art disappear. Listening to Endtroducing is like that scene from Ratatouille with the food critic. I stop feeling separate, like I'm listening to something, and am instead completely consumed by the soundscape it creates.

Alright, that's probably enough pseudo-intellectual posturing. I should probably actually talk about the music, yeah? Hop to it. I think "Stem / Long Stem" is my favourite song on here. It's built around this repeating string part and starting off it strays quite dramatically from the endlessly layered and evolving style on much of Endtroducing by keeping many of its samples somewhat isolated from one another, with one beginning when another ends. This comes to head with a torrent of aggressive break-beats, pummeling and dark. And then "Long Stem" begins, and leads with very natural acoustic instrumentation before devolving into terribly pretty electronic atmospherics taking the album's heaviest moment and working down back to calm.

Balancing calm keyboards and vocals with hectic horns and drums pops up again on "Mutual Slump". Playing with a dynamic listening experience it demonstrates one of DJ Shadows greatest skills with his sampling and production. "Your favourite DJ savior" could create amazing transitions through and between his tracks, "Organ Donor" demonstrates this well. The song is really groove-oriented and swings from one keyboard groove to another with perfect proficiency. Or the more long-form "Napalm Brain / Scatter Brain", which shifts focus and interrupts itself multiple times maybe making you think it's prior musical ideas were finished before they come slinking back in.

I've yet to mention the spoken word sections present prominently throughout the album, as on "Mutual Slump", "Stem / Long Stem", and "Napalm Brain / Scatter Brain". The humour many of these provide may be the only part of the album's entire composition and production which does not actively expand the albums so-described "consuming" spirit. But they have their own worth, and are infrequent enough that these stories of chess, dogs, ice-skating, and parking tickets don't impede the album.

Containing almost no rapping, DJ Shadow managed to make one of hip hops greatest recordings (to someone who doesn't primarily listen to rap). And his incessantly vigorous production style and choice of samples make Endtroducing a completely engrossing album, one where you can disappear into the music. Every* track is driven by a nuanced drum groove, with a fuzzy kick and snare mix and chugs along with funk grooves, jazz melodies, and a trip hop ambiance.


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