The 1990s Project: DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…..”

The 1990s Project: DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…..”

Since I waded in the shallows of Wilson Phillips and Michael Bolton for my last post in this series, I thought that for this one I’d better choose a critic’s darling: DJ Shadow, whose 1996 debut Endtroducing….. is regarded by Pitchfork as the seventh best album of the entire decade.

Except for Moonshake, DJ Shadow is the farthest thing from a household name among all the artists whose albums I’ve looked at so far. He’s a cult hero among DJs, producers, and well-informed hip-hop heads, but he spins a cerebral brand of chill-out with a notably low oomcha-oomcha factor. Endtroducing….. has been called by Guinness World Records the first album ever constructed entirely from samples, making Girl Talk a direct, albeit much rowdier, heir.

Unless you become a DJ or conceive a child to it, Entroducing….. is not an album that’s going to change your life. Its tracks trip along the spectrum from funky (“Changeling/Transmission 1”) to poignant (“Mutual Slump”) to tedious (“Why Hip Hop Sucks in ’96”) without ever making you want to stop what you’re doing and turn it up. To really appreciate the historic significance of this collection, you’d have to have been much more attuned to cutting-edge music in 1996 than I was.

Whether or not this is an album you fall in love with, it’s worth knowing and appreciating as an important stepping-stone on the path to the musical world in which we now live, where samplers and mixers are standard tools in the arsenal of musicians across a widening range of styles. Pitchfork’s Nick Sylvester notes that sampling has always been central to hip-hop, but with Endtroducing…., Shadow demonstrated that the practice could transcend genre.

Go to see an average indie rock band in 2011, and they might well look and sound a lot like an indie band from 1971, or 1981, or 1991, or 2001—except that there’s probably a MacBook and mixer propped up somewhere. An increasing number of artists perform live with nothing but MacBooks and mixers. Maybe the reason Endtroducing….. sounds so unassuming today is that the artist’s craft has become, like his namesake, so common that you don’t even notice it any more.

Jay Gabler

The 1990s Project is my attempt to give the decade’s music a fair shot at disproving my offhand assessment that the 90s were the armpit of modern musical history. The project started on my Tumblr, and has now moved to The Tangential. My goal is to visit, or revisit, 100 of the decade’s most acclaimed, popular, and/or interesting albums. Here are the albums I’ve written about so far.

1. Radiohead, OK Computer (1997)
2. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
3. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (1999)
4. Moonshake, Eva Luna (1992)
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
6. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
7. Erykah Badu, Baduizm (1997)
8. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
9. Fugazi, Red Machine (1995)
10. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun (1995)
11. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
12. The Bodyguard soundtrack (1992)
13. Marcy Playground, Marcy Playground (1997)
14. 10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden (1992)
15. Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
16. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)
17. #1 singles of 1990