July 21, 2008

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing..... (November 19, 1996)

DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... is generally considered to be one of the most powerful albums in the genre, transcending hip hop almost entirely in its quest for worldwide domination. I read a review of this album online in which the author calls this disc "one of the greatest moments in the history of contemporary music". Hyperbole? We'll see.

Josh Davis, DJ Shadow's driver's license alter ego, is a hip hop producer who is generally seen as somewhat of a pioneer in the field of instrumental music. Sure, he's made quote-unquote "regular" beats for rappers as well (I had expected him to work with guys like Blackalicious and DJ Krush, but was surprised to read that he's remixed Depeche Mode songs and actually contributed a lot to Sleeping With The Enemy, a hardcore album by political rapper/conspiracy theorist Paris), but he's best known for his musical contributions that don't really require vocalists. His style is primarily that of sampling, but he's taken the art form to an entirely different plane: he effectively argues that a record, in and of itself, should be seen as both a method of transport for music and an instrument that can be used to create new sounds: he has a knack for utilizing many many many records in a single song, usually chopping and scoring rock, funk, soul, hip hop, jazz, and the occasional polka samples beyond all recognition, with the end result showcasing a newer way of looking at the original source material.

Endtroducing..... apparently is listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the first album in recorded history that was made completely out of samples and not "traditional" instruments. It's universal praise upon its release guaranteed a spot in the history books for Josh, and, oh yeah, the music did as well: the patchwork quilt he created with Endtroducing..... (with its eerie samples, stream-of-consciousness dialogue lifted from many different sources, and ambient (and often very fucking long) instrumentals) sounded almost timeless, which tends to happen when your album sounds like absolutely nothing else that was on the shelves at the moment.

Some interesting side notes I only discovered today by reading through the liner notes: Shadow credits, among other people, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, and Jam Master Jay as inspiration. He also subtly disses Dan "The Automator" Nakamura in the notes as well, but it's all in good fun, considering that Shadow apparently recorded Endtroducing..... under the watchful eye of The Automator at his own studio, The Glue Factory. Also, only eight songs are listed in the album credits as officially sampled material: my guesstimate is that, had Shadow actually cleared every single recording for use on this disc, it would have cost more than the national fucking deficit. Yes, there are that many samples on here: the only other album I can readily think of that features so many other songs chopped up is Paul's Boutique, by the Beastie Boys.

Speaking of which, Paul's Boutique is an album that ranks among my wife's favorites, and she is actually the reason why I own Endtroducing..... in the first place: she gave it to me as a random gift while we were still dating. (That would be why I married her, kids. That, and she's awesome.) I had heard "Stem" on the soundtrack of 187, some flick with Samuel L. Jackson that I cannot recall, and I remember loving it (that soundtrack also featured a remix of Method Man's "Release Yo'Delf" that was produced by The Prodigy, which I also liked: that soundtrack is certainly not anything I could recommend to anybody, but it had some surprises), so I was thrilled to find that "Stem" was accompanied by "Long Stem" on Endtroducing.....

Let's see how this goes.

Not your typical rap album intro, but it's still a rap album intro, sans the "rap" part.

Have you ever woken up in the morning, got yourself dressed, jumped in your car, and while you're driving to whatever your destination is that day, noticed odd names and production credits appearing on the horizon, hovering over your passenger seat, or sometimes even suddenly stamped on the back of your head? This is the song that is playing whenever that shit happens, and it is great.

Unlike some of the other tracks on Endtroducing....., I can't imagine anybody listening to this track stuck on 'repeat'. It's okay, but kind of annoying.

Pretty fucking awesome. This song clearly showcases a master at work. He must have inspired thousands of wannabe producers to scour their local thrift shops and record stores for some buried vinyl treasures: with all of that new found competition, no wonder he moved on to hyphy.

Kind of boring, I gotta say.

This track simply has no title, but it's really just a goofy interlude that can easily be skipped.

As I wrote above, I had already heard "Stem", and I loved it even more after hearing it in its proper context. "Long Stem" is just a revamped and extended version of the original song, and truthfully, it isn't as good as the original, but it still works as pleasing meditative music. The transmissions that pop up sporadically on the disc just creep me out, however, and are very hard to listen to without hitting the skip button.

I used to hate this song with the passion of a thousand suns, because that ridiculous chirp noise at the beginning just sounds awful. I still hate it, since it damn near induces headaches, but if you get past that, you're rewarded with some heavy-ass drums and a subliminal melody that will score your nightmares for weeks. And somehow, that's a good thing.

Much shorter than I would like, since the organ-driven beat (which you could have guessed by its title) meshes with the simple drum breaks perfectly. You may recognize the beat in its original incarnation, as an incredibly-brief part of the "Stem" / "Long Stem" quandary.

Yeah, he pretty much hit the nail on the head. See also: why hip hop sucks in '08.

I'm almost certain that this song alone has caused creative minds to construct approximately ninety-seven screenplays, four million and three short stories, multiple novels, and the occasional song, which hopefully doesn't sample this already-sample-driven set, as that would just be overkill. My opinion? I could see writing to this as well, and not just because it's on while I'm writing this sentence.

I like this song the least. Elements of it are good, such as the guitar lick and the drums, but the dialogue that drives the track sounded vague and boorish, turning me off almost completely. Also, there are big chunks of this instrumental where absolutely nothing is happening: it'll make you wonder if your iPod has frozen again.

A great and expansive way to end your debut solo disc: the music reaches heights only hinted at in the twelve previous tracks. If only that transmission weren't there at the end, I would be an extremely happy man. As such, I'm only thoroughly entertained.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Endtroducing..... still sounds as good as I thought it did back in the day, which is to say, a lot of the songs hold up, but a couple of them really don't. This is still an impressive body of work, however, and Shadow deserves all of his accolades for essentially creating a new sub-genre within hip hop's twisted jungle of a definition. Throw this shit into the CD player when you're driving around by yourself, and you will notice a tonal shift in everything you do, from making that right turn at the light to noticing that female jogger bounce up and down to the beat. Simply stated: it's good. Really good.

BUY OR BURN? In 2005, Shadow's label, Mo Wax, released a deluxe edition of Endtroducing..... that included an entire second disc chock-full of B-sides, alternate takes, and a twelve-minute live set. Buy that shit instead of the single-disc version: you'll get more bang for your buck. But even if the single-disc edition is the only one you come across, don't hesitate to part with your lawnmowing money.

BEST TRACKS: "Changeling"; "Stem"; "Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt"; "Organ Donor"; "Midnight In A Perfect World"; "Mutual Slump"



  1. AnonymousJuly 21, 2008

    Holy shit.

    I really wasn't expecting a review of this one, as I was guessing that it wouldn't be "enough" of a hip-hop album or something like that, so I am very happy to see it reviewed. This is one of my favorite albums, incredibly sublime and it never gets old. Truly genius work.

    Currently, I am looking for more albums like it. I've already snatched up Paul's Boutique (which is another favorite of mine), and The Avalanches' Since I Left You (Which I believe is an even finer listen than Entroducing, though it moves away a bit from the hip-hop territory). Any other suggestions?

  2. So What Does your Soul Looks like? Did not expect a review fo this album (word to comment above), but glad for the review. Funny Thing about this is that Shadow used to see this album put in dance section of record section and he would take this album and put it in the Hip Hop Section. Messed Up, huh?!!

    Anyway, this one of the best albums I've heard and Shadow shows why he is rather unique talent in the endless world we call hip-hop.

    Now, if you would excuse me, I have to go work on movie with Midnight In A Perfect World, somehow ending up in the movie (and the weirdiest part is it is a comedy, for the family to see???!!!!)

    Until Time Next

    So, peace to the nation, the people that represent, and those cats that never bug out to the extreme

    Yo, If word is bond
    then Q is gone

    (Stop by Lyrics sometime, we can use all the company)

  3. AnonymousJuly 22, 2008

    I like this album because Shadow knows how to make experimental music without crossing over into making something obnoxious. But even though I've tried, I can't have the unbridled love that other people have for it.

    I'd rather listen to the genre of "Chillout" like on this internet-radio-website when I want to relax and listen to something, since I can survive without the rap vocal samples and drums.


    There's a good story behind Entroducing, and marketers know that stories sell things. The dark phrasing on the album are simple and not too impressive for an instrumental album, except for Changeling which is actually pretty stunning. The strong point of the compositions here are that they are masterfully arranged. But I can only say that I'm subtley moved by the music, which is different and interesting since I think that was the intended effect on the listener.

    Even though I feel like there's better stuff out there, the album should be commended because it does take you on a journey and you know you're in good hands. And after listening to it, I actually feel like I've gained something in constrast to feeling like I've lost a significant percentage of my brain cells (e.g. Carter III through from beginning to end )

  4. I agree with much of your review, except that I love Love LOVE that interlude where the guy talks about his sister's friends ("all of them, got ass"). It's one of the hottest beats ever and I wish I knew where it came from.

    You're doing God's work here.

  5. I don't get "Why hip hop sucks in '96" I love that beat. What does shadow mean?

  6. I think it's more the nature of the beat (which sounds like g-funk/synth) and the fact that he says "It's the money...." which was pretty much where hip hop WAS headed back in '96.

  7. This is a classic. Your spot-on review reminded me of how much I love this album. The fact that i was the only one of my friends who was bumping this back then makes it even more of a personal gem. I'm proud to be one of your two readers.

  8. this album is absolutly flawless.

  9. one of the best ever

  10. nice 2 see a review 4 this hiphop classic!
    Changeling is my fav on this one, too.

    why don't ya do some reviews for J Dilla
    [I love "Donuts" - masterpiece i.m.o.]
    would be nice!

    peace & keep up the good work!

  11. Easily my favorite instrumental album ever. The Number Song sounds really good when you're snowboarding (or skiing, if you're into that).

    WHAT DOES YOUR SOUL LOOK LIKE (PART 4) was boring, for real. The rest of the songs you didn't like were still really good imo. Gotta check out Paul's Boutique then.

  12. Seriously Max, you put me on to this.. what must have been a year ago now, and its STILL getting constant play on my day to day musical ventures. Dope album, and dope review.

    Peace from Canada

  13. never thought i'd get into instrumentals albums, boy was i wrong. Just listened to this while reading your review Max, and lemme tell ya im buying this immediately. Cant wait to cool out in the car with this playing

  14. yeah, those transmissions were creepy as hell, especially the last one with that twin peaks sample

  15. AnonymousMay 08, 2013

    Great album.

    I am SHOCKED you haven't reviewed Dilla's "Donuts" though. Holy fuck.

  16. AnonymousJuly 28, 2013

    Does anyone know how much it would've cost to clear every sample on this?

  17. (Most) Hip hop sucks way more nowadays than in '96, it makes his whinging sound petty. Oh, the album? Yeah loved it.