On DJ Shadow

In 1996 DJ Shadow released his debut album Endtroducing…... I don’t know much about its impact on the music world at that time, but I’ll share my personal experiences with it.

Once I started listening to the album, it took me three years or so to slowly get obsessed with it. I liked it at first, and thought it was great, but put it away as I got distracted with other new music. Every once in a while someone would mention it and I’d dig it out and listen again and like it a little more. The same thing happened with my friends. They enjoyed it at first, put it away, and wound up completely taken over by its subtle greatness a few years later.

The experience comes in two parts; the first revelation that the album provides the listener is a complete trust in sampling as a musical instrument and an art form. For those unaware, Endtroducing….. is an album composed entirely of samples from other sources — among the first of its kind. Shadow expertly weaves drum loops, bass lines, strings, and all sorts of beautiful melodies into completely new songs. The effect can be mesmerizing; at times it seems that Shadow had all the melodies in his head already and only had to sift through hundreds of records to find the ones that matched what he already knew. In reality, the process was likely similar, though Shadow was probably influenced by the types of samples he heard as well.

Once you hear Endtroducing….. it’s almost laughable to see how excited people get about Madonna sampling ABBA and Crazy In Love’s sample of the Chi-Lites. The difference? Shadow doesn’t owe the greatness of his songs to the greatness of his samples.

The album’s second revelation comes the next time you hear one of the sampled songs in full. Shadow’s samples usually sound nothing like what the end result is on Endtroducing…... For example, Shadow’s “Stem/Long Stem” samples the beginning of “Love Suite” by Nirvana (’60s psychedelic band, not Cobain’s). On Shadow’s track, the strings and plucked sounds are ominous and scary. It’s long, dark, and moody, and most of it is held together by that one sample. In contrast, “Love Suite” turns into a happy, bouncy track right after the point where Shadow’s sample ends.

As in “Stem/Long Stem,” Shadow knows how to slice out a completely benign sample from a track and turn it into something fierce. He doesn’t go for the entire great synth riff. He’ll take the beginning few notes, fuse it with the outro and create something entirely his own. Just listen to Tangerine Dream’s “Invisible Limits” and then check out Shadow’s “Changeling” to get a taste of the genius.

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