Terror, introspection, and sheer rage. The mastery of DJ Shadow’s 1996 Endtroducing is its ability to create horror out of the mundane. This record has garnered the acclaim that it deserves over the years, but now, looking back at it over two decades later, it is increasingly evident how innovative the first fully plunderphonic album really was.
Josh Davis, a UC Davis college radio DJ, disappeared into his basement with an eclectic collection of world, comedy, jazz, and funk records, and ended up with something that was unlike anything that came before.
The record is pensive and crafts a scatterbrained story of self doubt, frustration, love, dreams, and misery. It is emotional, and even while jumping from one sound to the next it feels as though there is direction. Vocal samples offer cryptic new layers to these already fascinating samples.
“Changeling” is slow burning and hopeful, but also cynical and frustrating. Synths clash against a sloppy drum pattern, and heartfelt vocal samples ride along this haunting instrumental.
“Stem” sounds like watching a flower grow, only to be mercilessly burned by the furious “Mutual Slump”.
“Midnight in a Perfect World” is a famous song, but hearing it in the context of the rest of the album gives it new dimension.
“Napalm Brain” is perhaps a reflection on the consequences of Vietnam, perhaps a statement of self doubt, perhaps both.
The album’s grand ending, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?” leaves you with no choice but to think.
DJ Shadow considers this album to be hip-hop. The genre was young but getting older, and it was terrifying musical conservatives across the country. This album legitimized instrumental hip-hop and challenged the limits of what an artist could say through nothing but sounds created by others.
I am not a fan of DJ Shadow’s more recent endeavors, but Endtroducing and other early projects represent a profound achievement for Davis, and his contributions to hip-hop are immeasurable.
There is very little that I can say about this record that has not already been said, but I encourage you to tune in again like you have never listened before, there are so many dimensions to Endtroducing.
I have favorite tracks from this record, but because it is a concept album, I would encourage you to try and listen through the whole thing, if you so choose.
By Jacob Newman