DJ Shadow: What became of the other man from UNKLE

"Oh you went there, you went and asked the question that I've almost become a dickhead about answering..."

Feature by Dave Kerr | 13 Sep 2006
  • DJ Shadow

"Hello, hello?"

Josh Davis (AKA DJ Shadow) is on the blower. "How're you doing Josh?" The Skinny humbly enquires. "I've been better; our flight's delayed in Singapore."

No matter, having recently become a father (to twins, no less) and been responsible producing one of the most anticipated albums of the year so far, life can't be too shabby for San Francisco's favourite DJ saviour. Truly an enigmatic man of many movements, it's a virtual impossibility to pin him down, but lets have a crack.

So what's his motivation?

"Continually expanding my musical universe. The only thing that matters to me is hearing music that inspires me. When I hear music that inspires me it's like finding a new colour in the spectrum to paint pictures with. It's the only way I can describe it. You're still using a canvas and you're still using paint but all of a sudden there's a new element and you suddenly look at how you do what you do differently and the result of what you can achieve with that is what keeps me going."

Taking a dramatic leap from 'The Private Press' and all that's gone before it, the gestation period for Shadow's latest LP may well prove to be a lengthy one, but there's no sense in complacency, as he testifies, "I don't think you could really compare them, and that's a positive thing because I set out to make a record that was impossible to compare to 'Endtroducing', which is what people seemed fixated on doing with the last record. So I think I've made a record that is hard to imitate and hard to categorize, which is one of the reasons it's called 'The Outsider'."

'The Outsider'; an interesting title, room for ambiguity, evoking the unexpected and suggesting all bets are off. One thing Shadow doesn't stutter over, however, is that hiphop most definitely does not suck in 2006, and he (perhaps rightfully) mocks The Skinny's interrogation skills as he retorts, "Oh you went there, you went and asked the question that I've almost become a dickhead about answering. Well, rap is cool right now, it's as good as it's ever been, there's good and there's bad, but it's strong, otherwise I wouldn't be indulging in it."

Such indulgence is evidenced heavily throughout the first half of 'The Outsider'. Collaborating with the originators of the 'Hyphy' movement (California's answer to Crunk), E-40 and The Federation, on first glance it seems that Shadow's going for shock tactics on his third. He shrugs the suggestion off, "I just sat down to make a record that reflected what I like and the type of music that I care about. Being from and living in the Bay Area, I sort of fell in to listening to Hyphy stuff, and it's the most potent type of rap that the Bay Area has come up with since the early 90s. So it was really exciting when it came along and rather than do what I would probably have done in the past and go 'well gee, I'm a guy who mainly works with samples, so I guess this is just gonna pass me by,' I decided to get into it."

Exemplary of this five-strong suite of anti-rhapsody is lead single Three Freaks; "what we in the Bay Area call a slap in Hyphy terms," a track with ill at ease rhymes being riffed over deep speaker-bursting bass. As Shadow explains it, "when I came up with the beat I felt that it was strong and had potential, so I think it's only natural that I would try and put people on it that know how to write to that type of beat, rather than some kind of underground rapper."

Elsewhere, rumblings of funk, soul and retro indie are plastered throughout. Although perhaps a natural progression, given the tendency of 'The Private Press' to focus on arrangement, 'The Outsider' ignores any previous conventions and technical inhibitions and witnesses the metamorphosis of a DJ into a composer. "Now that I don't just use samples, that frees me up to be able to write string arrangements or create a bassline. It basically allows me to see through a lot of different musical interests that I've had but for various reasons haven't until now."

Whether the unfurling schizophrenic nature of 'The Outsider' is embraced or rebuffed by expecting ears, DJ Shadow's spectrum continues to expand in correlation with his neverending quest. As he assures in parting; "I've always considered myself a lifer."

The Outsider' is released through Island on September 18.
DJ Shadow plays The Academy, Glasgow on November 29.