Josh Davis’s debut as DJ Shadow has been an impossible act to follow, not just for him, but for the entire deejay community. It took Shadow six years to release a follow-up record, and still the momentum of his 1996 debut swallowed The Private Press whole. Endtroducing is a breathtaking masterpiece that uses heavy percussion, spacious mixes and samples culled from years of crate-digging that seemed to be the pride of the record more than the actual result for its cultural-anthropologist creator. It’s a late-night listen and early-morning trip, best heard with crashing waves in the background or (let’s face it) drugs swirling around the head.
The double-disc deluxe edition is a great chance to re-evaluate the record, but it’s not quite essential. Bragging that Shadow was personally involved in the compiling of the extras, Island/Universal has put the bonus disc together as an almost track-for-track alternate version of the finished work. The result does not hold up to its official brother, but it is perhaps a stronger listen than The Private Press, and it definitely surpasses the alternate selections on Preemptive Strike.
However, this clever method of creating a companion piece to the original has an inherent fatal flaw: why listen to an outtake version of a record when you can listen to the original? Where great reissues in the past year have given some warranted extra material (the Clash’s three-disc London Calling, the Kinks’ three-disc Village Green), there is very little here that isn’t for the true Shadow head, and even then it may only be a listen of interest rather than pleasure (e.g. I wonder if that Heat sample was intended for the original release but the label couldn’t afford the clearance).
But the great thing about having a new Entroducing on the racks is that everyone who hasn’t figured it out yet can get it. The reminder is a welcome one, not only because newcomers will be so pleasantly surprised (to put it mildly), but because it is a chance to remind the cynical, the forgetful, and, yes, the jealous just how good the Bay Area-deejay’s debut was.
When a record this good ages, a certain backlash sets in, apart from the critical resistance to anything new from the artist. Endtroducing hasn’t been forgotten, but it has become so intertwined with the destiny of instrumental hip-hop and electronica that its mere mention has become passé. Calling Rjd2’s Deadringer out for its Endtroducing influences was like calling it out for being a hip-hop record. Certainly, the very notion of an instrumental hip-hop record was created out of the ideas on this one album.
This assumption of greatness eliminates anyone’s desire to sing its praises on a daily basis, despite that this is one of the few records from the nineties that really deserves that distinction. Think about where hip-hop was in ’96 (it sucked, right Josh?). The crossover had happened, hip-hop was big money, and the very idea of the genre had been transformed into the rock formula: star frontman; big hook; get in, get out. Shadow, along with The Return of the DJ series that began that same year, brought the real stars back to hip-hop.
Of course, it isn’t like down-tempo psychedelic music was blasting out the speakers in the Bronx circa 1978. But if Shadow didn’t make a great record that was true to hip-hop’s sound, he made a great record that was true to hip-hop’s philosophy. The cut-and-paste aesthetics (not to mention the superior scratching and sampling) were just one part of this success, alongside genre splicing, beat matching and, most important (and most often forgotten), a do-it-yourself ethic that renders even the most unusual tracks shockingly organic.
Endtroducing is often classified as electronic, but the music is so natural it almost becomes a comical association. More than anything, it shows how stubborn people can be about the assumption that hip-hop is the emcee and the emcee is hip-hop, ironically enough the very thing Davis proved wrong nearly ten years ago. This new edition is strictly for the fans, but there should be no doubt in your mind: Endtroducing is an essential album.