An expected critique of DJ Shadow’s recent foray into hyphy was that of cultural imperialism. A white musician embracing a predominantly African American mode often elicits connection with the long history of Western cultural tourism. The argument was predictable because of the perceived divide between Shadow (white, urbane, middle class) and hyphy (urban, wild, lower class). The argument was exaggerated because hyphy was just one part of The Outsider, the album in question; if anything, he deserved equal or greater flak for appropriating Coldplay and mediocre Brit-pop. And, lastly, the argument was disappointing in its Pavlovian adherence to racial/cultural separatism: Every time a black hand and a white hand meet, why does someone have to cry miscegenation?
Which is not to say artists aren’t complicit, as well. Post-Elvis/Civil Rights, white artists who performed, interpreted and referenced black art had to confront their role in this storied relationship. Yet post-Beastie Boys/multiculturalism, artists in this same circumstance have been rushing to bypass the past. In a few instances, such as Marshall Bruce Mathers III’s “triune persona,” this dynamic has been magnified and dissected in a lucid, vivid and entertaining way. But few artists have faced up with such gall or skill. No matter how you cut it, the race card remains in the deck.
to describe Team Shadetek”’s full-length debut, Pale Fire, as a missed opportunity is an understatement. Production
duo Matt ””Soze.sht”” Schell and Zach ””Zizmore”” Tucker have previously overcome
the stigmas of affluence
and a homogenous upbringing
by accumulating a broad knowledge of black music trends and interpreting
something, well, indescribable.
The group’s past output rubs elbows with grime, glitch, dancehall and hip-hop
blends worldwide. The two have earned fluency in multiple musical tongues
because they have invested the necessary time and effort.
Yet, Shadetek plays Pale Fire disappointingly straight. The duo that “deals with street music on a global scale” here reproduces and imitates without creating or innovating. The album opens with clarion urban signifiers like gunshots and air horns-sound-effect detritus scattered liberally on countless mainstream hip-hop and dancehall records. Emcees are invited to rep their self (Skepta on “Reign”), their ‘hood (77Klash and Jahdan on “Brooklyn Anthem”), the art (Jammer on “Master Your Flow”), or simply represent (Ruste Juxx on “BKAssassin”) with no coherence or connection to one another, let alone the hosts. And the record closes with an answering-machine collage of artist peers, Facebook friends and angry neighbors that dimly reinforces the concept of a “team” Shadetek. All of which plays predictable, and borderline stereotypical, and makes for a dull listen.
Let me be clear: Pale Fire‘s principle flaw is not racial bamboozling. Rather, it lazily references blackness without proper context, be it original or innovative. The slip is unfortunate because the album subsequently sounds trite, like an amateur Diplo demo. Individual tracks like “Brooklyn Anthem” and “Throw Ya Guns Up” stand out on the strength of production value alone, but the whole sounds flimsy and confused. Instead of producing a coherent album, the duo disappears behind an eclipse of guests and settles for something that falls somewhere between the average mixtape and a D12 record. Worse, Pale Fire comes off offensive, like a package tour of black ghetto aesthetics. The celebration of violence and machismo plays too well into the familiar racial discourse. Frankly, Shadetek has had better foresight in the past and should have exhibited the same here.