DJ Shadow
Knockin’ Doorz Down

shadow1.jpgThe adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” isn’t as universal as you might think. Even though concocting a distinctive formula to call your own can initially be difficult, once it’s set, sticking to it is a piece of cake. Josh “DJ Shadow” Davis established a golden reputation in the indie hip-hop/electronica scene with his first two solo albums, Endtoducing… and The Private Press, where he exhibited flawless turntable skills and worked with a who’s who of underground hip-hop. Along the way, the Northern California native helped found important West Coast independent label Solesides, which later became Quannum Projects, currently the home of Blackalicious, Apsci, Latyrx and others. Shadow paved his own lane, and earned the right to coast on cruise control for as long as he wanted.

But now, a decade after his debut, Shadow seems to be breaking what he built. His new album, The Outsider, leaves his proven instrumental recipe for a compilation-style LP chock full of guest appearances, laying trip-hop in the backseat to make room for the recently-nationalized hyphy movement on the passenger side. With David Banner and E-40 showing up instead of Gift of Gab and Cage, indie heads may have their doubts about Shadow’s new material. But in an interview with XXLMAG.COM, Shadow insists that ain’t a damn thing changed. You just haven’t been listening close enough.

DJ Shadow feat. Keak Da Sneak & Turf Talk “3 Freaks” (2006)
(click here for music video)

Listen To:
DJ Shadow feat. Keak Da Sneak, Turf Talk, Mistah FAB & Droop-E “3 Freaks (Remix)” (2006)

DJ Shadow feat. Q-Tip & Lateef “Enuff” (2006)

DJ Shadow feat. David Banner “Seein’ Thangs” (2006)

With this new album, you really changed direction. What made you decide to work more with MCs and less on instrumental material?
Because of the success of the first [solo album], I guess I felt like I had to follow that format a little bit. I started out working with rappers. When Paris was on Tommy Boy in 1989, ’90, he was the first person to put me in the studio. All the early records that I made usually used rappers. The only reason I started doing solo stuff was because I was too pig-headed and I wanted to do my own thing too. I don’t rap, so it ended up that I [got] inspired by people like Mantronix and other instrumental stuff. All along—even when I was doing those other instrumental records—on the side I would still do production for people, [and] obviously I have a rap label that we started. I got to a point in my career where I just didn’t feel like segmenting everything anymore for the sake of protecting this fan from this type of music and this fan over here from this type of music. I just decided to cram it all into one album.

It seems like a pretty bold change. How did you know your audience would respond to the new material?
I did a mix CD last year called Funky Skunk and I sold like, 50,000 [copies] or something like that. It starts off with Three 6 Mafia and it goes into all this crunk stuff and then it goes into funk music and then it goes into really obscure mid-school hip-hop, like late-’80s hip-hop. Then it ends up with this laid-back guitar music. When that CD blew up the way it did, among a lot of different types of people, that’s when I realized, Okay, if I approach my own record the same way, I can do this.

If I’m going to make rap, I want the rap songs to hit with people who listen to rap. If I’m going to make a hyphy song, I want it to hit in the hyphy community. I don’t want it to be on some toned-down hyphy. So I just decided to approach the album that way, as opposed to maybe sparing fans of mine who don’t like rap so much. They’re going to get the full impact of the rap that I like. That’s why I worked with people like Banner. A lot of people just assumed that I didn’t like commercial rap or gangsta rap or whatever you wanna call it. But I grew up on all rap, and continued to listen to all different types of rap, be it Geto Boys in ’88, or OutKast in ’95. And I think the biggest misconception people have about what I do is that because sometimes I do albums that don’t have rap on it that somehow I don’t like rappers.

This album has Q-Tip, David Banner, Phonte, E-40, Keak Da Sneak, and others. Which of those collaborations was most exciting for you?
For me, getting E-40 on the record and especially having him doing a whole song. It’s hard to get 40 to do a whole song. That’s pretty rare in the Bay. And that was a real honor. Plus, he’s the big man. After 2pac’s not around, Mac Dre was murdered a couple years ago, everybody in the Bay really appreciates 40. And I think the reason people appreciate him is because he appreciates everybody else. And so, being able to work with him was great. Banner was the first person that I reached out to. The first verse [on “Seeing Thangs”] we did in 2004. And then I stopped working for about five months because my wife had twin baby girls. And then [with] the Phonte Coleman track, I was just really impressed with his talent. He can sing, he can rap, he can do it all really, really well and really fast. He knows exactly what harmonies to do. To me, he’s massively underappreciated, and I didn’t even really know he was like that until we were in the studio. He’s really disciplined. He really knows exactly what he wants to bring to the table. Out of everybody that I worked with, I remember just being like, “Damn, I didn’t even really know that this dude was that talented.”

shadowkeak.jpgYou’re from Northern Cali, but a lot of people might be surprised to see you working with artists who could be labeled “hyphy.” How did you get into hyphy music?
[After] my last album came out and I came off the road, I made a decision to move my studio out of my house and into the Mission district in San Francisco, in the city. I was commuting to and from work for the first time in 10 years. When you’re on the road for an hour and a half everyday, you burn out on all your CDs and you just find yourself turning on the radio. And in late 2002, early 2003, me turning on the radio coincided with the main urban station in the Bay Area, KMEL. A lot of local artists around that time had taken them to task, because they are a Clear Channel station, for not playing local artists. They responded by playing local artists, and that coincided with the emergence of the hyphy movement. So early songs like “White Tees, Blue Jeans and Nikes” by Keak, the early Federation stuff like “Hyphy” and “Go Dumb,” Mac Dre stuff like “Get Stoopid” and “Thizz Dance,” all these songs are being played for the first time on the radio and I’m hearing them…it was just luck. When I was driving to the studio, it was during the mix hour, so I was hearing a lot of local artists. Growing up in the Bay, a lot of the names I remembered from ten years prior, but a lot of them I didn’t know. I’m 34, [so] I’m ten years older than most people in the scene. People like Turf Talk are in their early 20s. I was hearing the music and it was just compelling me. Everywhere you go, kids around you are just being, “Oh, she’s hyphy, he’s hyphy, they’re acting hyphy.” “Oh, he’s way too hyphy.” It’s no different than living in New York probably like in ’87, ’88. The culture was just so thick that it was inescapable.

Then I started going to shows. Last summer was really crazy because Keak Da Sneak had this song out called “Superhyphy” that was just so anthemic in the Bay. I was at Summer Jam, which is the big live show for KMEL, and when he came out there, just seeing 30,000 kids go stupid like that was just so ill to me. I’ll never forget that. And that was just a week after we recorded “3 Freaks.” Then October came around, I gave it to the radio station and they just flipped for it. So for the first time in my life, I’m getting radio play. One thing led to another, and from that song, people started knowing who I was. People are like, “Oh, that’s a slapper. We should do something.” It was just a whole reintroduction to my own area.

A lot of artists who were closely associated with the whole underground scene in the ’90s seem to be opening themselves up to different types of rap these days. Where do you think that trend comes from?
Well, for me, it’s a long answer. If you were passionate about and listened to hip-hop prior to it crossing over in 1989 and 1990, then you have a certain understanding. In California, where I come from, we didn’t have WBLS, KISS FM, Red Alert and all that. We had our people that was playing rap, but it was very segmented. It wasn’t really until Tone Loc, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice that rap crossed over on radio nationwide. If you go back and read The Source from the late ’89, early ’90, all you’ll read about is people being uptight about the future of rap and who was going to control it. Was it going to be controlled by the people who created it, or was it going to be controlled by these record labels who don’t really care about it or understand it? There was a big movement in hip-hop to keep it pure and keep it real and all that. And that had a valid place. Having already been a listener for eight years [at] that point, I really aligned myself with that sort of ideology, which was the real versus the fake, or real versus commercial. That made sense for a while, but by the time records like The Chronic were coming out…being from California, that was massive. Everybody loved that record. The term “backpack” didn’t exist back then, [but] anybody from any backpack group that you could think of from California back then loved The Chronic. Before that they loved Ice Cube, before that they loved N.W.A and even before that, in my case, they loved C.I.A. World Class Wreckin’ Cru, I loved that shit too.

I guess what I’m trying to say that it made sense, at a certain point, for there to be what ended up becoming the underground hip-hop movement or backpack rap or whatever. But as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t really applied to my listening or my musical tastes for a number of years, at least since ’96. [But] even then, I didn’t stop listening: back in ’94, ’95, I was listening to Bay Area hardcore rap the same way I was listening to the Geto Boys from Houston. I loved Miami Bass. I was all over the map. I guess because I tended to adopt a lot of musical theories based on people like Bambaataa and Flash and later the big underground hip-hop ideology, I just tended to meet those type of people, and that’s how I ended up working with a lot of those type of people. But as far as the type of music that I listened to and liked, it was always pretty consistently well-rounded. I never made the differentiation between gangsta rap and whatever else there was. There’s good gangsta rap and there’s bad gangsta rap. MC Eiht is good gangsta rap. Ice Cube is good gangsta rap. There was a lot of garbage gangsta rap too. That’s the only differentiation I ever made: quality versus fly-by-night bullshit. But even some of the fly-by-night bullshit became good: I remember 8Ball and MJG in the early ’90s, I was like, “I don’t know I’m not really feeling this.” But then they kind of came into their own, around ’97, ’98, and it made sense to me. Sometimes people just need more time to gel.

Working with such a diversity of MCs, your production has gone in some new directions. How did you go about capturing these different sounds?
After my last album, I decided I didn’t want to make records on the MPC anymore. That was decided before I ever knew that I was going to make a hyphy record or anything like that. After my last album, I just felt that I wouldn’t ever do anything better on that instrument. So after I came off tour, I spent a year at that studio I was commuting to, learning how to make music in different ways. I felt my sound was ready for a change and I felt like that was going to happen inevitably if I changed my method. So I started using software synths and my samples wouldn’t live in the MPC anymore, they would live in the computer. I bought a control 24 for ProTools and was using some synthesizers and outboard gear just to vary up my sound a little bit. I started realizing that a lot of the sounds that I was hearing or a lot of stock sounds I was playing with were not unlike the sounds that people like Rick Rock were using in the hyphy scene. It was still a good two years, though, until I sat down and I was like, I love this music too much, I just gotta try to make something. And the first time I tried to do that, “3 Freaks” was made. And when I made “3 Freaks,” I knew I didn’t want to use…if you want to make a beat like that, you have to know somebody who can ride a beat like that. So it was literally, Who do I like the best out of this scene right now? Who’s really gassin’ on the radio? Well, at that time, it was Keak and Turf Talk. So then it was just a matter of, I’ll reach out to them, roll the dice and see what happens.

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  • wab

    I like the David Banner track, so I guess way to go Shadow. I’m back after you lost me with all that U.N.K.L.E. shit.

  • khal

    love what he’s saying, still not feeling the LP.

  • twerkolator

    ^you trippin’ dog…”rabbit in your headlights” was john blaze..

  • NickeNitro

    “I just didn’t feel like segmenting everything anymore for the sake of protecting this fan from this type of music and this fan over here from this type of music. I just decided to cram it all into one album.”

    That’s what it’s all about: the music. We’re finally starting to emerge from all this demographisizing and imaging the industry has tried to force on rap music to make it easier to market to different characterizations of people. People don’t want to be categorized. The whole classification system is just creatively stifling, forcing everyone to just try to re-create a pigeon-holed sound.

    Props to DJ Shadow for working to piece this shit back together and for bringing in elements from other music, because that’s what this hip-hop shit is all about: being original, saying your piece, and moving it forward. Hip-hop’s a big potluck and you gotta bring something to the table.


    I saw Shadow presents the Hyphy Movement this summer in Barcelona. I was juiced, being from the Bay and all, but also a bit nervous, like, “I know all these Europeans go dumb for Shadow’s early shit, there’s a big chance FAB, Turf, and Nump won’t be able to connect with this audience, regardless of Shadows contribution.”

    I was wrong. They hit the stage at 4am; people might have been a bit confused, but the energy was undeniable. The best part was Shadow knowing he couldn’t get out of there without lacing some classics.

  • Soup

    Shadow is a pioneer…still one of the best producers of all time. Rappers have yet to catch up with this dude.

    90.3 KDVS Riff Raff and Shadow, 1993….who knows about that?

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  • jon jon–23


  • Fernando

    Mac Dre… YOU BEEZY!!!!

    • Morrie

      If you wrote an article about life we’d all reach elingthemnent.


    he aint find no hyphy shit..he just tryn to get his part in tha shit….and stop sayin hyphy MOVEMENT..that shit sound hella gay….it aint no movement its how niggas be actin out here u dig…3X KRAZY really had niggaz hyphy back in like ’99 wit real talk 2000…we was goin dumb hella long ago…on some real shit SCRAPPIN!…tha RADIO was hella LATE too….KMEL started playin thizz dance AFTER they seen we was feelin tha MAC shit more than jay-z, u feel me….erybody was goin dumb to anythang that slapped, even if it wasnt from tha bay ..straight up…this just for niggas who speakin on tha shit and dont know where it came from



  • benny

    he still doesn’t have that hit.

    come on shadow … get that hit.

    you really do not have that hit with any of these tracks.

    is that the artists you worked withs faults? I think maybe.


    ps. i give shadow mad props from way back in the day with that preemptive strike shit and all that initial record industry manuevering he did before he even hit 23 or 25 years old.

  • Young Swagga

    I Gotti Grapes has a point. The energy which is now classified as “hyphy” has been relevant since around 1998. 3XKrazy’s first LP, Stackin’ Chips marked the end of the Mob sound with producers like Tone Capone and Harm, but when Keak Da Sneak went solo and came with a remixed version of the pink panther theme, there was new energy. The hyphy movement is best described by the old Gil Scott Heron soundbite: “The revolution will not be televised…” The HYPHY movement is exciting, because our acts are getting mainstream attention, but the REAL hyphy culture, is dead, in jail, or working to support our families now. Big up to DJ SHADOW for doing his thing, and all success to him.
    That’s when it all changed, in my opinion. That was 1998 (Sneakacydal).

  • melange


    –response to “fuckthatdumbshit”
    –explanation of “backpacker” hip-hop
    Ah, the net-banging, walking, talking, writing embodiment of contradiction and oxymoron that is ‘fuckthatdumbshit’. Here is this person’s perspective:

    1) He rates ‘backpacker’ music high simply for the sake of rating high, regardless of whether or not it is worthy of such a rating
    a) Why is it called ‘backpacker’ you ask? It’s a style of dress, mentality, and lifestyle amongst certain individuals on the outer fringes of authentic, street oriented, hip-hop
    1) Characterized by a bohemian, artsy, dread locked, non-conventional, left-of-center, slightly nerdy, and ALTERNATIVE look, coupled with a backpack (so goes the stereotype) and an unusual fervor and adherence to the so-called ‘five elements of hip-hop’.

    2) Why the backpack? Because years ago when this stereotype emerged (around ’94-’95) when gangsta rap and actual gang membership and activity was the social & acceptable reality among young men of color who happened to also be hip-hop/rap fans in may cities, these outsider ‘backpacker’ guys would literally carry their aerosol cans, vinyl records, tagging markers, weed, etc with them wherever they went, to ‘ciphers’, freestyle battles, tagging competitions, etc

    a) They were seen as weirdoes because they didn’t really fit in with the cool crowd, the real hustlers whom formed their own labels, really sold drugs, had the flyest whips, had the authentic reality rap from the streets, the flyest women, had money for studio time, etc. The aforementioned cats had that swagger and the charisma that defined the hip-hop from that era (you want some mainstream examples? Biggie, E-40, N.W.A, etc…underground examples? Master P, C-Bo, Mac Mall, Brother Lynch Hung, etc)

    b) A lot of these back pack crews had white boys with them whom really wanted to be a part of this dominant black culture, but weren’t really accepted in this crowd in the schools they went to, in predominantly black hip-hop clubs, or in social circles. Most of the prominent black cliques/gangs/hustler crews wouldn’t normally want to be caught dead with these cornballs, especially at the upscale, exclusive nightclubs that we frequent. It was not a good look socially or with regard to the ladies (face it, I’m sure many brothas have heard other brothas disparage white boys as being weak, corny, etc…It is a perception among some)

    c) Since the backpacker cliques consisted of guys that couldn’t fit in with the tastemakers and trendsetters of the day and couldn’t be accepted into gangs because maybe they were punks and couldn’t fight, or because they didn’t have the heart to take penitentiary chances and hustle at a young age (like many of my friends did….14 and 15 year olds driving brand new trucks, fully restored old school whips, etc),

    d) They then began to try to find a way to ‘Get In Where They Fit In’, and thus began this alternative counter culture with its strict adherence to the ‘five elements’ (rhyming just to hear themselves rhyme, rapping just be rapping, break dancing beyond its time, graffiti, etc) because the real street cats weren’t preoccupied with this. Real cats were more focused upon creating authentic, street oriented Hip-Hop for mass appeal and with business minded sensibilities

    You think that Busy B, Kool Moe Dee, Flash, Melle Mel, etc, weren’t street cats that were out make as much money as possible, move the audience, make a social statement, and look good while doing it? This mentality is the ESSENCE OF HIP-HOP!!

    SO, when you have guys with artsy & alternative sounding names (Akrobatic, Mr. Lif, Evidence, Iriscience, Hieroglypics), whom seemingly rap about nothing relevant, merely seeking for some exposure in order to ‘get in where they fit in’, it’s cool with me, but as you can tell, it does not appeal to the masses for a reason. It is not the type of music that moves the people. It’s content isn’t relevant to anyone except for those of their ilk. It’s corny to most. It doesn’t have any social significance, even in the clubs. These guys just rap for the sake rapping (and is therefore detrimental to the culture in my opinion) and is definitely not real, street-oriented, socially relevant (from the block to the boardroom to the clubs), OR intellectually stimulating.

    What qualifies me to share this opinion with you, ‘fuckthatdumbshit’? I was born in Harlem at the time that Hip-Hop was born. The pioneers on occasion would be in my neighborhood for house and block parties. I’ve lived this since day one. I’ve felt this since day one. I’ve smelt the ghetto air, seen the effects of ghetto living, and examined first hand the conditions that produced authentic hip-hop.

    I was raised in the West; around the time that gangbanging was gaining a stronghold in our communities. I’ve participated in that. I’ve known gangsters and gangster rappers whom went into the studio to share their stories of strife with the world. Since day one, I’ve had a thorough, multi-coastal hip-hop education. I pay attention to this music.

    How does your 5 out of 5 rating and blind acceptance of this type of alternative hip-hop contribute to the relevance or advancement of our culture, especially when the song in question is complete garbage? What kind of logic is that?

    Where are you from? What is your background? What is your hip-hop educational foundation? Where were you raised? What kind of street of street knowledge do you have? What kind of hip-hop knowledge do you have? What qualifies you to be such a critic of others opinions about hip-hop?

    The reason why I ask is that I’ve noticed a very condemning, matter of fact tone to many of your posts…come to find out, YOU ARE NOT EVEN AMERICAN!!!! YOUR OPINION DOESN’T EVEN REALLY MATTER TO WHAT WE DO, WHAT WE LOVE, WHAT WE LISTEN TO, OR WHAT MOVES US!! Are you simply a closeted, nerd, weirdo, angry outsider, and backpacker yourself?

    Holla back.

  • Young Crack


  • eauhellzgnaw

    Glad that he’s admitting the “real hip hop” posturing was complete bullshit.

    He’s vastly overrated, though.

  • 11kap

    This magazine is into putting white people on some kind of pedestal in order to make black people look stupid. We don’t need your approval, white man, to be who we are. You can’t be us, and we don’t want to be you, so stick lead in your butt.


    What the dj is doing is cool,but the only problem is california is known for changing music not joining in with everybody else.the hyphy music is just like crunk so it isn’t westside shit like before.So it looks like the bay has to follow whats going on instead of coming with new sounds like Dre&Snoop.Its ok but not powerful enough like the chronic,so the bay will have to have more skills to get a bigger audience.There are about 25 artist with the same Go Dumb hook that shit is wack as fuck.Be more creative and stop using the same beat this aint the south.The DR.DRE sound runs california.LIl Jon can only do so much he is not that versitile.Stop tryin to do it the easy way use your fuckin mind.

  • Fernando

    Big Dallaz

    You are mad late son. Hyphy has been goin down WAY before crunk. It just got mainstream lately. The whole bay area sound has been blazin its own trail for decades. If you dont like it, thats cool. In fact, everybody else bites on the Yay, and tardy cats like yourself dont even know it. Pac got started in the bay. Snoop’s whole “shizzle” talk came from 3X Crazy in like ’96. Mac Dre was goin dumb back in ’99. Dr. Dre’s sound AINT NEVER RUN THE BAY. They got their own style of beats. SO IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE WRONG IN JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING IN YOUR POST YOU FUCKING IDIOT. Go bump your 50 cent and think your hip you tardy, square-ass lame

  • >>>>>>>>>ROC

    fuck thyat hyphy shit……wtf…..niggaz goin dumb and stupid?Ya negroes can’t go any lower

  • A.T.G aka jr rydha

    That shit is all wacked as hell,he some cat who charge rappers for stuido time to make a living,that crap ant sold no units,he wack shit ant on the air,kmel is wack to,and hyphy is for kids,the bay need to grow up, if you over 18 and u go dumb u are dumb,you a grown ass man talking about go dumb,don’t you think that’s why oakland ,sf,and richmond have over 100 homicides each,I’ve lost to many homys to be hyphy,dumb,or what ever you are,I’m from west side project fillmoe,
    Its time to stand up and kick the real,while you are going dumb police,hater and sucker are killing our kids grow up,punk

  • http://none love_forever

    Hyphy beats and rhymes are WAY different than the South shit. I agree that the themes can get redundant, but it’s around a movement – with it’s own events, language, etc..
    I don’t know about most, but I know for me I had to look WAY past what gets bumped on the radio to find any of the real shit.

    check: too short + FAB – sideshow (it’s a bay beat with roots and it KILLS!!!!!!)

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