DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing at 20: a record that changed the musical landscape for good

DJ Shadow

DJ Shadow

As DJ Shadow’s debut album, Endtroducing, hits 20 years of age, Getintothis’ Ste Knight reflects on the importance of the record, not only to him, but to a whole generation.

So, I’m going to make you feel really old now. Where you there when DJ Shadow‘s debut album, Endtroducing, hit the record shop you frequented as a youngster? Yes? Well that was in 1996. Twenty fucking years ago. How ancient does that make you feel?

On Saturday, November 19, Shadow dropped the twentieth anniversary edition of his much celebrated long-player. Lauded by musos the world over as a defining moment in musical history, the original was met with critical acclaim, and rightly so. In a feat of near-impossible proportions, Josh Davis hit us with a record that was to change the musical landscape for good, and one which many many artists would seek to emulate, but never quite get there.

I remember when I was first exposed to DJ Shadow. I used to obtain mixtapes from my cousin, who I’ll lovingly refer to as ‘Our Michael‘, and lo-and-behold, one day he chucked me a tape with one of Shadow‘s tracks on it. I have a lot to thank Our Michael for, but it is probably for the fact that he got me onto Shadow in the first place that I should be thanking him the most, as that formed the basis of my musical tastes 20 years on.

The Number Song was the track in question. From the opening sample “1…2…3…4…5…Break it down, baby” I knew I had to hear more of this enigmatic character, who had seemingly emerged from some dark corner in very much the way that his name would suggest.

So, that was it. I bombed off down to Probe Records (a place I would frequent regularly in my teens, picking up all manner of whacked out hip hop treasures), located the album and, clutching it feverishly in my nerdy little hands, I made my way to the checkout and purchased it.

Nothing, not even my own mother, had prepared me for the outrageous levels of wonderment that I was to experience when I arrived home and put the album on. Oh my fucking GOD. What was I listening to? This LP was, to me, totally scatterbrained, and I absolutely loved it. The way in which Davis had thrown a whole collage of samples together, from all sorts of different sources, was complete and utter genius.

I wasn’t the only one, of course. Music critics the world over were tripping out over this album. It received four out of five in Rolling Stone magazine, Pitchfork plastered a big fat 9.1 on it, and NME pulled out its box of stars and emptied 5 out of a possible 5 into DJ Shadow‘s lap. This album had broken the mould.

Check out our DJ Shadow Top Ten Tracks, and see if you agree

When I exposed my best, and now my longest serving, mate Joe to it he too was completely hooked, and I think I’ve seen Shadow live more times with him than anyone else, such was our enthusiasm for lapping up every ounce of manna that Davis bestowed upon us in our formative years.

Endtroducing was the album that just kept on giving. Every time I listen to it, right up to the present day, and undoubtedly far into the future, I hear something new, some tiny little detail, which inevitably makes me break out in a smile. So cleverly produced was the record, that it still retains its ’96 freshness to this day. It is an album in which each and every track has the ability to turn your brain completely inside-out, and then flip it back to its original position.

DJ Shadow had managed to create something the likes of which nobody had witnessed prior. One of the things that makes Endtroducing so special is that no track sounds like the next, or the one before. Organ Donor sounds nothing at all like Stem/Long Stem, and yet the album as a whole maintains a cohesion like little I’d heard before, or have heard since.

It is truly fair to say that Endtroducing has left a legacy for many. Those who were there the first time around will know just how important it was back in 1996. Those who have joined the party late will always wish they were there at the start.

Needless to say, Shadow‘s following albums were always, and still are, surrounded by that ‘golden question’ – “is this this going to be the next Endtroducing?” It is pointless even wondering whether this will be the case. The answer is always a resounding “no”. But then, why should it be? DJ Shadow has the right, as an artist, to develop his sound, and steer it in any way he pleases. What would be the point in making another Endtroducing?

Well, we could argue that it would give the naysayers and purists something to talk about. But then, would they just moan about the fact that the hypothetical Endtroducing II, is nothing like the original? There is no reason why it should be, of course, we have the original right here, twenty years later. Just put that on if you want to hear Endtroducing again.

Every time Davis releases a new album, the die hard fans will lament the fact that they haven’t got a record that sounds like the one Shadow dropped in ’96. They’re right, but there’s no point whining about it, just don’t mention The Less You Know the Better to them unless you want to face a tirade of abuse.

Perhaps, for some, the legacy left by Endtroducing has been something that both put DJ Shadow on our music-map, but then also flung him right off it. For me, this isn’t the case. I’ll always eagerly anticipate Shadow‘s releases. The thing is, they should be approached without expectation.

Don’t sit there eagerly awaiting Endtroducing II. Not gonna happen. Maybe then you won’t be so disappointed that Shadow is collaborating with Keak da Sneak, or is using instruments in place of his sampler to create sound. Basically, get over yourself.

There’s absolutely no reason for Davis to bend to the will of his fans and put out another Endtroducing. Let the artist evolve. Enjoy the original for what it is. A masterpiece in the eyes of many, and a record that is going to keep gifting you with little nuggets of genius for many years to come.