DJ Shadow has always been about duality. When you DJ with vinyl, it is always recommended that you have doubles. If you’re a record collector, it’s always great to buy doubles of everything. When it comes to his music, some will hear it merely for the way he constructs the sounds. A lot of times, he seems to be telling messages and stories through the sounds. His songs can be (and are) incredibly funky, but if you wish to dig a little deeper, you may find that his works are much more than what is seen and heard on the surface. It is that duality that has made me a fan for 20 years and counting, and as the world awaits for an all new project for him, he has released a compilation focusing on the the beats he put together when he was first establishing himself outside of his bedroom and dorm room.
Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions From The MPC Era, 1992-1996 (Reconstruction Productions) is self-explanatory… or is it? On the surface, these tracks are true breakdowns of music he was working on at the time, songs that only went as far as rough constructions or becoming the seeds for bigger and better. “Intropy” sounds like a bridge between “In/Flux” and “Entropy”, while “Alright” shows hints of the “Jason Pew Mosso” funk that he would later use in the Brainfreeze routine. Shadow has always used a wide range of sounds, from obscure soul and funk, to rock and lesbian folk, and while they may not have been easy to detect before, you can to hear those sounds in skeleton form here. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to listen to his music that closely in order to enjoy it. What I do find interesting as well is that he has always been cited for his daring techniques and sample selection, something that was somewhat unspoken then but today we tend to take it for granted. A number of the beats here show more of a knack to create more mainstream hip-hop instrumentals, something that would fit in perfectly with the works of Pete Rock, DJ Pooh, and Dr. Dre. These examples here show a producer enjoying the Akai MPC and slowly outdoing its own capabilities. As with most producers, that’s the way you should interact with the equipment used: have fun but try to work it from the inside out. It’s Shadow’s progression from one stage to another. While the songs aren’t on this album, you can now hear how he got from “Shadow’s Legitimate Mix” made for Zimbabwe Legit to what lead to “Lesson 4″ to what became “Hardcore (Instrumental) Hip-Hop” to “Lost + Found (S.F.L.)”. It’s a notebook of sorts, presented in audio form, and essentially what we hear is him creating his own Ultimate Breaks & Beats or tracks that would’ve been worthy of a Simon Harris breakbeat and sample album. What we also hear is him moving out and away from that and into his own world. If Endtroducing is meant to represent a beginning but by being an “end” of sorts in the title, then we’re going before the end to see what lead to a possible conclusion. That is, if you wish to dig that deeply. For anyone who has ever ignored Shadow’s music for whatever reason, but seem to enjoy finding new and hot beats for free, I’m sure these tracks here will become used for young rappers wanting to be bold and daring. It may not be the intention, but then again, that can be said for a lot of aspects of hip-hop.
Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions From The MPC Era, 1992-1996 is self-explanatory… or is it? While we are hearing a total breakdown of tracks from the ground up, in skeletal form, if one reads between the lines throughout his writings, liner notes, and songs, is this compilation a penultimate compromise of sorts? I’m not saying this is the end of his work as a DJ and producer, far from it, but for me, it has always seemed he is not afraid to speak his mind through his music. Hopes, fears, dreams, concerns, and as stated in sample form on the Psyence Fiction album, it is great when one is able to find and achieve joy. If one has a breakdown, have things fallen apart? If so, what? Or is DJ Shadow going Brazilian on us and doing a bit of triple entendre? The songs here are a breakdown of his work and production techniques, he may be breaking down in some fashion, or is this a breakdown of hip-hop and what it has become? Is he in turn trying to make another statement on why this album was put together? Am I asking too many questions?
Yes, this review is about what is heard on the surface and the “what if’s” through over-analysis. Bottom line, it’s a way for Shadow and his fans to hear what was in order to reflect on that, in order to see what is. Or as Prince said in “Lady Cab Driver”, “don’t know where I’m goin’ ’cause I don’t know where I’ve been/so just put your foot on the gas, let’s drive”. With cockiness, it can be a way of saying “been there, done that, now let’s do something else”. It’s a way to look back at his archives and reflect on what his early works was about, and also to see how much he has progressed from the days of a KDVS radio DJ and someone who received “Unsigned Hype” status in The Source. With confidence, he’s saying that this is a mixture of the good and the rejected, and I don’t mind sharing it for people to hear.
DJ Shadow is not a clown that got beat down, but this is an album that shows songs and ideas broken down to its very last compound. Hear how it sounds? His piggy bank still has a lot of pennies, and these are the pennies that were metaphorically found in a couch. He’ll be back, but for now, just sample.
(The vinyl and CD versions can be ordered from Amazon.com below, or if you’d like to order it directly from DJ Shadow, click here.)