Review #329: Endtroducing….., DJ Shadow

Karla Clifton
3 min readNov 12, 2022

#329: Endtroducing..…, DJ Shadow

Have you ever seen that Portlandia sketch where they keep running into DJs? That’s always what I think about when I think about DJs. Anyone can do it, is the joke… but nobody does it well, is the punchline.

No, that’s not right. The truth is that I love DJs, in that “fake music fan” kind of way where I’d never even heard of DJ Shadows, who technically holds the record for the world’s first album made completely from samples. (There are some quibblings about Plunderphonics by John Oswald, but that’s an EP.)

Working with samples is different than working with instruments, but it’s not without skill. For a fun example of some of the skill it takes to think like a DJ, watch this performance of “Pop Culture” by Madeon, which is also composed of all samples. (Unfortunately it came out in 2011, long after the De La Lawsuits, so it’s confined to the lawless world of YouTube and banished from the almost-legit world of Spotify.) He’s arranging these seemingly random noises in such a way that you recognize the songs they come from, but also in creating his own tune. RS describes it as “sonic painting,” which is a really beautiful way of putting it.

Anyway, DJ Shadows’ real name is Josh Davis (pretty lame), and Radiohead loves him (pretty sick actually). You might know him from his song with Run The Jewels, “Nobody Speak,” but this was released in 1996, making shadows an OG. And as Shadows explains in this interview, this record was actually released “five years into my career of putting out records,” hence the E-N-D. In other words, Davis was busy mythologizing himself before he even got started. Which explains the arrogance and meta-ness of record-scratch-ridden intro “Best Foot Forward” where he endtroduces himself as Your favorite DJ savior.

“Sonic painting” seems to amount mostly to “vibe building,” of which half the battle seems to be coming up with dope song titles. (See “Building Steam With a Grain of Salt” and “Midnight In A Perfect World.”) “Changeling” and “What Does Your Soul Look Like Pts. 4 & 1” both give strong anime soundtrack vibes. And then there’s “Transmissions 1, 2 & 3,” each with their own distinct vibe, only related by their brevity. See final transmission: It is happening again.

Despite the surface-level pretentiousness of “sonic painting,” there’s a measure of humor, here, too. “Untitled” is just some Sublime-style shit-shooting, and “Organ Donor” features — you guessed it — an organ sample. My favorite bit was actually “Why Hip-Hop Sucks in ‘96” It’s the money.

I got excited about the samples I recognized (See “The Number Song” for some Metallica and “Mutual Slump” for some BJORK) so it must be really rewarding to dig through all these sample credits, for those with the time. Despite that, DJ Shadow himself was never a household name. His only breakthrough hit was the twinkling, plucked “Stem / Long Stem,” which only broke top 10 in Ireland because of a Guinness commercial. Maybe the world just wasn’t, and still isn’t, ready for sonic painting.

Best Song Title: “Napalm Brain / Scatter Brain.”

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