Words by Scott Eastlick
Cited as one of the best records of the nineties by most major music publications and included in Time Magazine’s list of greatest albums of all time, one of the keys to the resounding impact of DJ Shadow’s Entroducing on its 25th Anniversary can be found in the title of one of the album’s less substantial cuts, a 43-second interlude entitled “Why Hip Hop Sucks in ‘96”. It kind of did.
While there were certainly a handful of classics released that year, the second half of the nineties saw the genre moving from underground to mainstream. Selling out may have been considered a cardinal sin, but now issues of social justice were mentioned less frequently than the brand names of upmarket champagne. On the cusp of the Puff Daddy era of familiar crowd pleasing samples, Josh Davis offered an alternate path in the form of this melancholy collage of obscure records meticulously curated from the basement of the aptly named Rare Records in Sacramento, California – immortalized on the now iconic album cover.
I call it a collage. I think that's the best way to explain it to people. It's taking little pieces from here, adding it to little pieces from there. You know, literally down to not just the drums from one record but the snare from one record, the kick from another record and making something totally new out of it."
In terms of defining the trajectory of hip hop, the alternate path forged by this rapless rap record was no more able to overwhelm the commercial appeal of emerging artists like Timbaland and Missy Elliot, than the Dogme 95 purist filmmaking movement by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier was able to derail the big budget dominance of directors like Tony Scott and Michael Bay. More accurately, Endtroducing was a statement that hip hop was now universal; the production techniques once reserved for crafting beats for emcees to rhyme over could be employed in every facet of music. Any music detective would bag this album as evidence when trying to determine why Radiohead’s OK Computer sounds so much different than The Bends.
Photo above: DJ Shadow (Publicity image courtesy Derick Daily).
Noted by the Guinness Book of World records as the first record comprised entirely of samples – which was easier said than done before the age of digital music. Davis’ primitive setup of an Akai MPC60 sampler, a Technics SL-1200 turntable, and an Alesis ADAT recorder was drastically more limited than what can now be accomplished on a laptop. But, great artists often find their genius within the limitations forced upon them, which is why Steven Spielberg did more with an unconvincing mechanical shark than whoever directed that movie where a CGI shark eats Samuel Jackson was able to do with a room full of computers.
Photo above: Akai MPC60 sampler.
The act of deconstructing the most dominant samples from Endtroducing into a continuous mix reveals that the hip hop pedigree with which this material was presented wasn’t the subject of the album, it was merely a lens through which to view what is essentially an intricately woven mix of plaintive progressive rock, folk, and free jazz. This effort, 25 years after the fact, to restore the source material to the fore is an attempt to get inside the head of the creator, to shine a light on what drew him to the records he embraced. The result is a selection of mostly melancholy and introspective songs that seem to codify the depression Davis said he suffered at the time. The frenetic drums he added would then exemplify the exhilaration he must have felt while in the midst of creating an album that would irrevocably change the trajectory of music.
Endtroducing Samples Track Listing