DJ Shadow - Endtroducing….. - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing…..

by Jon Burke Rating:10 Release Date:1996-09-16
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing

Seconds into “Building Steam With A Grain of Salt,” the sampled voice of George Marsh, the brilliant jazz drummer, humbly asserts: “I’m a student of the drums and I’m also a teacher of the drums too.” The quote serves as the perfect summation of what’s to come: DJ Shadow, in thrall to the rhythm, offers listeners a 60 minute lesson on the power of the drum. What is so unique about said lesson, however, is its construction. Entirely sample-based, Endtroducing….. is a collage of sounds taken from other records and then looped, scratched, cut and spliced to create something entirely new. And while, technically speaking, Endtroducing….. is a hip hop record it is almost entirely devoid of any actual rapping. Instead, Shadow assembled a massive, moody, instrumental masterpiece that is just as fresh today as the day it dropped in late-1996.

Much like The Velvet Underground & Nico, Endtroducing….. was not a commercial success upon release. Instead, like the Velvets, DJ Shadow’s debut LP became a critical success as well as a major influence on just about every musician who got their hands on a copy. While acts like RJD2 and The Avalanches are clearly Shadow’s progeny, Johnny Greenwood and Thom Yorke have both cited Endtroducing….. as having had a major influence on the sound of OK Computer. Without Endtroducing….. there would be no Donuts and without JDilla, there would be no Kanye West. 

For me, listening in my college dorm with various and sundry substances coursing through my body, Endtroducing….. was akin a religious experience. A dark, impossibly fast and unpredictable sonic rollercoaster mapping a vast terrain of instrumental hip hop landscapes. I couldn't sink low enough into my chair to feel every beat. I couldn't clasp the headphones tightly enough to my ears to catch every scratch, cut and sample. From the urgency of the piano opening “Building Steam With A Grain of Salt,” to the haunting-yet-playful scratch tornado, "Organ Donor," to the thundering apocalyptic chill of "Midnight In a Perfect World," Endtroducing….. is an emotional, complex and challenging listen. While moments of breezy levity punctuate the record ("Changeling" and "What Does Your Soul Look Like pt. 1"), there is a tension present in most of the album's tracks which subverts any attempt by the listener to relax.  

The album's most epic cut, "Stem/Long Stem" sounds like nothing else. The track's echo-heavy acoustic string opener, replete with chimes, quickly gives way to a rapid fire, industrial drum n' bass, assault that has more in common with a military operation than it does with a hip hop record. Later a reference to "Organ Donor" comes in only to be replaced by a synth part that sounds like Giorgio Moroder's attempt to score David Lynch's Dune. DJ Shadow's genius is laid bare here with these disparate combinations of samples and rhythms which come together to form something entirely new and exciting. My most recent listen, prior to attempting a review of this classic record, I was sent right back into that on-edge head space that nineteen year old me felt at the end of my very first listen. I remember compulsively playing Endtroducing….. over and over just trying to understand what I was hearing, trying to cram more of it into my brain and ultimately happily failing and starting over from scratch. 

You owe it to yourself to hear this record--it still holds up. If anything, Endtroducing….. serves as documented evidence that long before Kanye was ripping-off Dilla's beats, DJ Shadow was forging a path for Jay Dee to follow amid the unexplored wilderness of instrumental hip hop. Thus it doesn't take "a genius" like Kanye to see how important Endtroducing….. is as both homage to the music of the past but also as a signpost for where popular music is headed.

  

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