Short Biography TheOutsider, thelatest album by instrumental hip-hop prodigy DJ Shadow,hits stores inSeptember, and he's currently touring worldwide in support of the release. Hegives Ticketmaster the scoop on the new record, his live shows and the state ofhip-hop in 2006.
TM:Let's talk about the new album The Outsider. Some have said that itsounds like a collection of singles rather than a unified piece with anoverlying theme. Do you agree? DJ Shadow: I don'tnecessarily disagree. I just feel like any album is kind of a snapshot of wherean artist is at in that particular (in my case, two years) time-frame in theircareer. So this album is no more or less than that really—which I think is thesame for any other album I've done. I guess what I tried to do is make a recordthat was really representative of what I'm interested in in music, andrepresents me well as far as what I like and what I'm about and what I standfor musically. And then at that point it was just a matter of assembling it insuch a way that the songs were able to stand on their own, because I felt likeall the songs were really dense and just good songs in their own right and Ididn't want to load them up with a bunch of skits and interludes andthings just so people felt that it was more album-y. I also felt sort ofemboldened by the sort of feeling that things are changing in the way peopledigest music. I feel like this is a sort of an iTunes mix tape world and...ifanything, I thought that people would appreciate that this album is a bit of ananomaly in the market place because it's so diverse. And I also feel that thewhole concept of mashing a whole bunch of styles of music into one song is alittle bit played out and I kinda wanted the rap songs to be for a rapaudience. I didn't want them to be softened for the sake of people who don'tordinarily listen to rap songs—which I think is also unusual because,ordinarily, when rock and rap are on the same album both usually suffer,whereas I wanted both to be pure.
TM:Speaking of styles, you included the hyphy sound and artists on the new album.Were you simply paying homage to your bay area roots, or was it also yourintent to bring more attention to the movement? (Hyphy is a hip hopsubculture originating from the San Francisco Bay Area) DJS: I supposeinitially it was the former and then to a lesser extent—but also important—thelatter. Initially, as with anything I've ever done, I just sat down at myequipment and did my best to channel my heroes...in this case, as opposed toBambaataa and Flash and Premier or whoever else I've ever been inspired by, itwas Rick Rock and Droopy and Traxamillon and other hyphy artists I listen towhen I drive around the bay area. It was that initially and then as thesong "3 Freaks" became kind of a local hit and became accepted into the sceneand I became, to some extent, accepted into the scene, I've tried to contributeto it because I feel like it's very genuine and ...it's a movement that I believedeserves support.
TM:Rumor has it that you switched up the sound for the latest album because yourearlier music has too many imitators. Is this true? DJS: Well, it wasnot in the forefront of my mind but, yeah, you know, I'll be sitting eating mybreakfast and I'll be minding my own business reading a music magazine ...orreading online and ...there seemed to be a trend for a while where it was sort oflike "forget DJ Shadow, here's the new DJ Shadow!" and I'd think, "well I knowthis dude's music and he sucks." Know what I mean? And I wouldn't have saidthat before. I wouldn't have felt comfortable saying something like that tosomeone like you, no offense, maybe five years ago. But you get a little bitolder and you mature a little bit and you feel like you're able to understandwhere you fit in and who you're better than and who you're not. I can give youfive people who I'm not as good as...but there are certain people who I tend tobe compared to, like "he's the new you." And I go, "no, that's not really onbecause I know who I'm better than and who I'm not and I'm definitely betterthan this dude or that dude!" You know, truth is the truth. (laughs)
TM: Isuppose understanding where you fit in is a sign of true maturity as an artist. DJS: Yeah.
TM: Soyou've got a lot of vocals on this new album. How does this affect your tourline up? Are you having a lot of guest vocalists performing with you at shows? DJS: I'm having acouple which I think is good because I think it was the only thing thatwas missing from my last tour. I think that the last tour was great, but ifthere was one comment that anybody ever offered and I tended to agree with isthat it was a shame that there wasn't more of a live dynamic going on. Eventhough I'm a DJ and I offered as much live entertainment value that any DJ can,especially for that length of time—my shows were like two and a half hours onthe last tour—on this tour there are some live elements. Interestingly, I feellike there's parts of my own set that work just as well. I don't know if thisset is just tighter and works a lot better than my last show—I don't know. Itjust seems that the show is working really well right now.
TM: Forthose who've never seen you live, how would you describe your shows? DJS: I'm trying tocreate a show that's on par or could be compared to entertainment-wise with anytype of artist. Lots of times I'll get people, even my own label, who are like"hey, so-and-so wants you to play at their thing," and then later they're like"what do you mean you have a show? You're just a DJ right? You can just go upand spin." There's a real misconception a lot of times as to what different DJsare gonna offer, and there's definitely a value to being the type of DJ who canjust jump on any old two turntables and rock a house party, but I'm...playingtheaters. I'm playing...the same places where Arctic Monkeys are playing so, forexample, I want people (who see both shows) to say "which show did you likebetter?" and not have it be "well, you can't compare both because one was a DJand one was a rock band." I want it to hit just as hard as any type of othermusic out there. I bring a visual element to it. I put a lot of work intogiving the show a sense of pace and a sense of movement and sense of timing inthe same way that a rock band would. I didn't explain that very well (laughs)but I don't want to give too much of it away either!
TM:Yeah, you don't want to do that! So do you have any really memorable on stagemoments? DJS: (laughs)Unfortunately the one that came to mind was something that happenedin Australia.The sound got turned off in the middle of playing in front of 12,000people. That was kind of memorable. I sort of had to adlib on the mic fora few minutes and I was back up and running. It was a littleuncomfortable. But I don't know...my most memorable moments (thinks for awhile)...unfortunately, because of my personality, they'll tend to be momentswhen I'm really nervous or ...maybe like when someone threw a bottle and I didn'tknow how to respond.
TM: Sodo you prefer smaller, underground venues or larger ones? DJS: There are justcertain great rooms, and there are certain really nice venues to play. Brixton Academyin London isjust a perfect place to play. It's a perfect sized theater for me. There's alsoa lot of smaller rooms that have the same kind of vibe. There's a place in Melbourne like that. I'mthinking worldwide ‘cause I'm on a worldwide tour right now. I really like theFillmore in San Franciscoand that's a small-ish room. There's a place in Minneapolis I like a lot, can't remember thename of it. But anyway, I like theaters that have a classic vibe to them. Idon't like ultra modern rooms that seem like they're made for someone else. Ilike your classic theaters that have been around for thirty, forty years.
TM: Notincluding one of your own, what's the last concert you attended? DJS: Yesterday Ijust came back from Japanand saw everybody from Lincoln Parkto Massive Attack...a bunch of groups, hundreds of bands it seems like. (Askshimself) Did I see anyone in Australia? (thinks) I'm surethere's a bunch but I just can't remember.
TM: Whoare you listening to at the moment? DJS: This is a hard question to answer as well. I've been on the roadfor like two and half months, so I'm not really current and also I grabbed mywrong iPod before I left and everything on there is at least three years old‘cause I last updated it on a road trip I did in 2003 so it's a bad time to askme that one! (laughs)
TM:Alright, last question. In a famous interview a while back, you were quoted assaying "hip hop was dying." DJS: Whichinterview, tell me.
TM: Ithink it was in URB. DJS: Yeah, Iguess—go ahead.
TM: Soin your opinion, what's the state of hip-hop today? DJS: It's fine. Ithink what I was trying to articulate is that...the song title in Endtroducing"Why Hip Hop Sucks in ‘96" was sort of taken out of context a little bit... whatI was trying to say at the time was, literally, with Tupac and Biggiegetting killed, hip-hop was dying and something needed to change. But a lot ofpeople took those kinds of statements to say I hate commercial hip-hop and Ionly listen to underground and I'm raising the underground flag and all thatkind of stuff which has never ever been the case for me. I've been listening tohip hop for 24 years and whether it be Schooly D, or Ice Cube, or NWA or GhettoBoys or 8 Ball and MJG or Lil John, I've always listened to hardcore rap—inaddition to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Blackalicious and whoever elseis supposedly more backpacker rap or whatever. I mean I listen toeverything—Miami Bass, Latin hip-hop—I'm just really voracious with rap musicand music in general. So I listen to it all and rap, I think as demonstrated onmy album, is still the main music I listen to. Probably 75% of what I listen tois rap. So I still love it and it's still good.
In-depth Biography DJ Shadow's Josh Davis is widely credited as a key figure in developing the experimental instrumental hip-hop style associated with the London-based Mo' Wax label. His early singles for the label, including "In/Flux" and "Lost and Found (S.F.L.)," were all-over-the-map mini-masterpieces combining elements of funk, rock, hip-hop, ambient, jazz, soul, and used-bin finds. Although he'd already done a scattering of original and production work (during 1991-1992 for Hollywood Records) by the time Mo' Wax's James Lavelle contacted him about releasing "In/Flux" on the fledgling imprint, it wasn't until his association with Mo' Wax that his sound began to mature and cohere. Mo' Wax released a longer work in 1995 -- the 40-minute single in four movements "What Does Your Soul Look Like," which topped the British indie charts -- and Davis went on to co-write, remix, and produce tracks for labelmates DJ Krush and Dr. Octagon plus the Mo' Wax trip-hop supergroup UNKLE.
Davis grew up in Hayward, California, a predominantly lower-middle class suburb of San Francisco. An odd, white suburban hip-hop fan in the hard rock-dominated early '80s, Davis gravitated toward the turntable/mixer setup of the hip-hop DJ over the guitars, bass, and drums of his peers. He worked his way through hip-hop's early years into the heyday of crews like Eric B. & Rakim, Ultramagnetic MC's, and Public Enemy, groups that prominently featured DJs in their ranks. Davis had already been fiddling around with making beats and breaks on a four-track while he was in high school, but it was his move to the Northern California town of Davis to attend university that led to the establishment of his own Solesides label as an outlet for his original tracks. Hooking up with Davis' few b-boys (including eventual Solesides artists Blackalicious and Lyrics Born) through the college radio station, Shadow began releasing the Reconstructed from the Ground Up mixtapes in 1991 and pressed his 17-minute hip-hop symphony "Entropy" in 1993. His tracks spread widely through the DJ-strong hip-hop underground, eventually catching the attention of Mo' Wax. Shadow's first full-length, Endtroducing..., was released in late 1996 to immense critical acclaim in Britain and America. Preemptive Strike, a compilation of early singles, followed in early 1998.
Later that year, Shadow produced tracks for the debut album by UNKLE, a longtime Mo' Wax production team that gained superstar guests including Thom Yorke (of Radiohead), Richard Ashcroft (of the Verve), Mike D (of the Beastie Boys), and others. His next project came in 1999, with the transformation of Solesides into a new label, Quannum Projects. Nearly six years after his debut production album, the proper follow-up, The Private Press, was released in June 2002. The following year Shadow released a mix album, Diminishing Returns, and in 2004 he released a live album and DVD, Live! In Tune and on Time. In 2006, his long-awaited third solo album, The Outsider, came out, but instead of following the blueprint he'd used on his past two records, Shadow enlisted help from Bay Area rappers like Keak da Sneak, E-40, and Lateef, as well as David Banner and Q-Tip. He toured frequently during the next few years, but released no material until 2010, when the single "Def Surrounds Us" teased a new album. Issues around rights clearance delayed the release during 2011, but The Less You Know, The Better finally appeared in the fall, heralding a return to his sample-based hip-hop. ~ Sean Cooper, Rovi