By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — More than two decades after he released his influential 1996 debut Endtroducing…, Bay Area turntable legend DJ Shadow continues to push the boundaries of his art in new directions. That recording — along with efforts by UK contemporaries Massive Attack and Portishead — helped codify the downtempo, cinematic style of music that would be labeled trip-hop during the mid-1990s. As easy as it would have been for Shadow (aka Joshua Davis) to mine that vein of narcotic beat science all the way to the bank, the artist has never rested on his laurels.
DJ Shadow first emerged as part of one of the most forward-thinking hip-hop collectives to ever surface in Northern California during the early ’90s. Along with equally bold hip-hop duo Blackalicous (made up of rapper Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel) and talented MC/producer Lyrics Born, the future members of what would become known as the SoleSides crew met at KDVS, the 5,000-watt college radio station at the Davis campus of the University of California.
Drawn to the hip-hop show by DJ Zen (better known later as hip-hop journalist and author Jeff Chang), the MCs and producers got over their initial feelings of competitiveness to form the SoleSides collective in 1992, establishing the label of the same name. The imprint issued a number of groundbreaking singles by Shadow and Lyrics Born before putting the debut recorded effort by Blackalicious in 1994. Featuring Gab’s dauntingly complex rhymes over gritty, atmospheric beats courtesy of Xcel and Shadow, the Melodica EP earned global recognition, establishing the group and the SoleSides crew as major players on the global hip-hop scene.
DJ Shadow would be the next player from the group to make the leap to worldwide notoriety. While he had become an underground sensation with his series of 12″ records that showcased his sampling ear and prowess on the turntables, it was Shadow’s production tour de force Entroducing… that was hailed as one of the cornerstone albums of instrumental hip-hop and influenced trip-hop artists and movie soundtracks for the rest of the decade.
Shadow would branch out towards the end of the ’90s, compiling his early singles for the Preemptive Strike compilation in 1998 and working with British label maven James Lavelle to produce UNKLE’s all-star debut album Psyence Fiction featuring guest spots from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft the same year. He also released his collaborative 7-inch single mix Brainfreeze with equally renowned DJ/producer Cut Chemist (of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli fame).
Their hit underground CD showcased the pair’s tandem scratching and mixing skills, helping to raise the bar and push the envelope of modern hip-hop tricknology. The recording — tracked during a practice session for the live performance debut of the mix in San Francisco — would start a cottage industry of reissuing and compiling the rare funk 45s heard on the deftly executed mix.
The dynamic DJ duo would reunite for two more 45s-only mix CDs and tours (Product Placement in 2001 and the more experimental mix The Hard Sell in 2007) as well as 2014’s Renegades of Rhythm Tour paying tribute to pioneering hip-hop icon Afrika Bambaataa that drew from his enormous collection of 40,000 records that had been permanently archived at Cornell University.
Shadow eventually delivered his sophomore album The Private Press in 2002 to another round of wide acclaim. He would follow with a string of releases including a remix and b-sides collection (the Japanese only The Private Repress in 2003) and the concert CD/DVD document Live! In Tune and On Time that showcased Shadow’s onstage prowess.
His next album The Outsider marked a major departure from his earlier instrumental efforts, exploring a mix of hip-hop and indie rock with a set of mostly vocal tracks that included members of the Bay Area’s rising hyphy movement Keak the Sneak, Mistah F.A.B. and E-40. While that record was met with mixed reviews, his follow-up five years later The Less You Know the Better was hailed by many as a return to instrumental form.
The artist would immerse himself in newer electronic music (leading to some controversial DJ appearances attended by fans expecting him to play his own hits), leading Shadow’s latest effort The Mountain Will Fall to feature a glitchy take on his classic sound that nods to more modern sounds without sacrificing the his gift for crafting monolithic beats (as evidenced by the hit collaboration with Run the Jewels “Nobody Speak”). Shadow brings his latest tour to the UC Theatre this Sunday. Fellow Bay Area producers/DJ Teeko opens the show.
Sunday, July 16, 8 p.m. $35