Enter Mr. Josh Davis with a new, expansive, double-album: Our Pathetic Age. “Occasionally an artist feels a responsibility to hold a mirror up to society and reflect on, or try to interpret their surroundings,” says Shadow. “Prince did it with Sign O’ The Times; Sly (and The Family Stone) did it with There’s A Riot Going On. I don’t consider either of them to be political artists per se, but they were compelled to use their art to help them comprehend their time. Similarly, despite the title, I don’t consider this to be a political album, but rather, a humanistic one. Whatever your political viewpoint, as human beings inhabiting planet earth, there’s a lot we’re going to have to answer for.”
Spread lavishly over 26 songs, with the instrumentals separated away from the vocal tracks, this is Shadow ploughing a unique furrow that still carries with it his recognizable hip-hop aesthetic. “For most of my recent albums, I blended the vocal tracks and instrumental tracks together. It was an intentional provocation, I didn’t want to spare anyone either end of the spectrum,” says Shadow. “You like the more ethereal instrumental stuff? Well, you’re gonna get hardcore rap mixed in. You like the rap stuff? Cool, in the meantime, chew on this female folk track. I liked mixing those energies and forcing people to challenge and define their boundaries. But this time, allowing the instrumentals to breathe on their own seemed refreshing, I felt free to be as progressive and ‘out-there’ as I wanted. I didn’t need to zig-zag between vibes, the vocal stuff could exist without compromise. And, by treating the album as two suites of music, it strengthened and eventually define the double-album concept.”
DJ Shadow made his name back in the 1990s as the mercurial producer of the vaunted Endtroducing, as well as aiding in the revival of numerous undeservedly forgotten auteurs like David Axelrod. His exploits as a digger are almost as legendary as his productions (these two facets of his personality, in fact, working side-by-side) with a series of compilations that took vinyl scavenging to a whole new level. He’s the DJ’s DJ.
After releasing early productions on his own Solesides label, Shadow was signed to the influential UK label Mo’ Wax. The pairing would result in Shadow’s de facto second album, U.N.K.L.E.’s Psyence Fiction, which found the producer alongside contemporaries like Thom Yorke and the Beastie’s Mike D. Subsequently, DJ Shadow has released four further solo albums, including the acclaimed The Private Press, 2011’s The Less You Know, The Better, the adventurous The Outsider and The Mountain Will Fall, which included his biggest success so far, “Nobody Speak,” featuring Run The Jewels. Although the track did include a familiar sample-based aesthetic, there was so much more to it than that, vindication of the left-turn he made on the last album. “The basis of it is a sample, and in the old days, that would have been it. Now I understand better how to really cover the full frequency range, adding textures and enhancement underneath every kick and snare so that the production feels full and complete. There’s deep bass and there’s crisp highs, which was always an issue working with just samples.”
His studio existence has regularly been disrupted and energized by tours that have showcased his quiet showmanship, as on his Live From The Shadowsphere tour, described by Beatport as one of the top ten DJ shows ever. In 2014, he once again teamed up with Cut Chemist (the pair made DJ delights Brainfreeze and Product Placement together) to create a live set entirely constructed out of Afrika Bambaataa’s mammoth record collection to a joyous reception, while in 2016 a 20th anniversary edition of his seminal Endtroducing album was re-issued (predictably, it’s already become a collectors’ item).
Now considered one of the elder statesmen of this scene, Shadow’s maturity is evident in both his approach to music-making and an increasingly sagacious view of the world in which we live. “I think as you age, you view the world, and your place within it, a bit differently,” he explains. “I used to be starved for validation from my peers, my hip-hop heroes. I don’t really possess that desire for recognition anymore. I feel fortunate to still have an outlet for my music, and over time, history will judge if I’ve been successful in my endeavors or not. At the same time, I feel I know my strengths and weaknesses better now. I know who I am, and I’m just going to make work that’s 100% me and 100% authentic.”