Thursday, October 19, 2006

And Shadow says “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

DJ Shadow
The Outsider
Motown, 2006

Creating a genre-defining masterpiece is great, but it can play hell on your career, especially if it is your first album and the genre is past its sell-by date. Just ask Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow. His 1996 debut “…Endtroducing” essentially set the template for trip-hop, along with some stuff by a little band called Massive Attack. Shadow combined crate digging, turntablism, hip-hop, and added a little melancholy and depth. His booming, analog drum sound became signature, and he managed to mix samples from James Brown and Bjork without it seeming off.

A few years later he dropped the fairly well-received “Printing Press”, and has done a host of other production and DJ work, mostly shit I’m not cool enough to know about.
Evidently he’s spent too much of the last ten years trying to live down his reputation from Entroducing, and has gotten pretty sick of being pigeonholed or told he is old hat. Here’s some advice, Josh: Don’t pay too much attention to shit you read on the internet. While you’re busting your ass creating albums and producing, all us slobs are busy criticizing people for having the audacity to actually do something rather than just consume and bitch.

Something else happened in the interim as well: Shadow got Hyphy. Hyphy is the Yay Area’s answer to crunk, and our own failed attempt to get our MC’s noticed by the rest of the world. Hyphy is marked with burping, high energy beats and lots of obscure slang.
Shadow getting hyphy is just about the greatest thing to happen to hip-hop all year, and certainly the best thing that could have happened to hyphy. In fact, all you really need to know about hyphy is on this disc.

The disc starts out strong, with a spooky intro, and then the gorgeous soul tune “I’m gonna do it my way” And indeed Shadow does, because he jumps directly into “3 Freaks”, one of sevaral hyphy tracks on the disc (others include Turf Talk’s “Turf Dancing”, E-40’s “Dress My Part”, and a remix of “3 Freaks”). The track is, how you say, banging. Shadow manages to get stupid without losing his smarts, and creates an upbeat ode to getting laid. And yes, this is an ode to getting laid. There is nothing underground, progressive, or backpacky about this track: it’s a street anthem with street lyrics, as are the other hyphy tracks. For those of us who have both T.I. and Xiu Xiu in our collection, this is a fine thing. For the rest of the world, the it may be a bit problematic, cuz the rest of the disc ISN’T street anthems. There are a couple more rap collabos, and then it’s off to experimental zone so Shadow can get his Radiohead on. When he’s not doing blues instrumentals, or punk instrumentals, or blues jams about groupies.

As a DJ, Shadow should know the importance of creating a cohesive set. Would you spin an Iron and Wine song after a Lil’ Jon song? No, right? And not because your audience is too unsophisticated to digest both, but because they don’t go well together. I love ice cream and I love wild boar, but I’d never have ice cream on top of wild boar. I really wish this had been a double album, with one disc all rap collabos and one disc all mellower, experimental stuff. As it is, the disc can be a little jarring in its rapid changes between genres.

Despite my complaints, I don’t want to pan this record because it is too diverse and schizophrenic. The fact is, there are only one or two ungood tracks on the album. Most of the stuff is pretty damn good. Consider how many albums out there only have a handful of good songs. The Outsider, on the other hand, is packed with good songs, a handful from various not-so-compatible genres. There are far worse things in the world, like, say, E-40’s latest disc, which is basically really long single.

And there are some moments of absolute brilliance. David Banner’s contributes his gruff vocals and angry yet insightful lyrics to “Seein’ Thangs”:

Martial law, tell Bush naw we ain't ready to flip
The hood is like a modern slave ship
We packed like sardines and shackled to the streets
And crack is cotton that grows up from the concrete
Shit, but I guess I'm seein thangs
We'd rather not learn, we'd rather fuckin gang bang”

I know DJ Shadow is going to get a lot of shit for The Outsider, and I hope it inspires him to do even more crazy shit in the future. There are too many musicians playing it safe.
-Patrick Sean Taylor

No comments:

Blog Archive