Everything’s getting subdivided
Fools are dancing really hard
Futuristic kid shit
DJ Shadow’s first full-length record, Endtroducing, was released in 1996 under James Lavelle’s Mo’ Wax label, and its dizzying, baroque assemblage of samples single-handedly extended the boundaries of experimental hip-hop by an order of magnitude. In the years since, Shadow has been restlessly tweaking and redefining his method and technique, only to double back and head off in a new direction with each project. His latest album, The Outsider, is an exercise in formal diversity, each track a surprising departure, melodic soul giving way to breathy, funk-laden ambience, which in turn yields the frenetic, loopy dissonance of an emergent style of rap known as Hyphy.
Jeff Chang is the author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, an innovative cultural history of hip-hop that traces the origin of the genre from its antecedents in Jamaica in the late 1960s, through its formal birth in the Bronx in the ’70s, to its transformative rise to mainstream dominance through the next quarter-century. Chang writes about hip-hop not as a style of music but as a force that runs parallel to the history that gave birth to it. He is currently editing an anthology titled Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.
Long before Endtroducing was entered into the Guinness World Records for “First Completely Sampled Album,” Chang met Shadow working at KDVS, the college radio station at UC Davis. They formed the influential Solesides label with other nascent hip-hop groundbreakers such as Chief Xcel of Blackalicious and Lyrics Born, and released some of Shadow’s earliest singles in the early ’90s.
The two have kept in touch over the years. Shortly before the release of The Outsider, Chang met Shadow at his house in Mill Valley, where they had the following conversation.
JEFF CHANG: Right now there’s a lot of futuristic kid shit that’s happening on the regional level all across the country. Fools are really dancing, like dancing super hard—there are these new dances all over the place, and you know that when a fourteen-year-old has invented a brand-new dance, the music must be incredibly vital and is going to last another ten or twenty years.
DJ SHADOW: I also think it’s nice that rap has been around long enough to where it’s sort of OK to say that New York has its history, Atlanta has its history, Houston has its history, the Bay Area has its history, and it’s no longer the case where one region is being looked at as better or worse than the next. I was just overseas and everybody wanted to hear me talk about Hyphy and I would say, “Right off the bat, I’m not the Hyphy spokesperson. I don’t go to shows—I hardly even go to clubs—I’m a good ten years older than most of the people in the scene, if not more.” But what I do tell them is, “Look, in the same way that you can be over here and listen to and understand bounce music but it really helps to go to New Orleans, and you can have all your Chopped and Screwed CDs but it really helps to go to Houston to understand, it’s the same with Hyphy.” From Sly Stone to Digital Underground to now, Hyphy is a witty, quirky take on things. And you have to be in the Bay and know the diversity of the Bay and its weird geographic shape, with its pockets of extreme poverty right next to pockets of extreme wealth, and all that weird interplay that creates the Bay as a whole. Even the weather—the weird way all the clouds butt up against the coast—it’s like everything’s cruising along and then all of a sudden you get to the coast and everything’s turbulent. And it’s always there, that energy in the air—it’s always turbulent, never still. And all that factors into Hyphy.
But then it gets into the whole hip-hop then-and-now, like, “You weren’t listening in ’88.” “Well, you weren’t listening in ’82.” “Well, I was living in Bronx River projects.” It’s like who’s the more authentic—
JC: “I got shot in front of Bambaataa, taking a bullet for him.”
DJS: It comes down to if you’re not DJ Kool Herc, you’re not going to win the conversation.