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DJ Shadow


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  • 1 year later...



When an actor plays a particular type of role well, he runs the risk of being typecast. The same thing can also happen to artists. With his albums Endtroducing... and The Private Press, DJ Shadow has staked out a claim as an avant-garde hip-hop innovator. Endtroducing... is considered a classic in many circles and has influenced countless artists and DJs.


Apparently tired of being typecast, DJ Shadow's newest studio album is appropriately titled The Outsider. Instead of evolving and tweaking the formula that worked on his two studio efforts (and, to some extent, on his U.N.K.L.E. work), DJ Shadow tries his hand at everything from hyphy to britpop. The result is something that most listeners won't be able to make much out of.


The first actual song on the album, "This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)," signals DJ Shadow's intentions. After that song, we get a stream of hyphy tracks. For those who don't know, hyphy is a style of hip-hop from Northern California (where DJ Shadow is from). They begin with "3 Freaks," a goofy song that's mindlessly enjoyable. Featuring rappers Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk, the song features an unusual but catchy electronic beat. The other two hyphy tracks are forgettable.


Shadow next dabbles in a little southern hip-hop with "Seein' Thangs" featuring David Banner. Banner, who is from Mississippi, angrily raps about everything from Bush stealing votes to the urban legend that the government purposely blew up the levees and flooded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "Broken Levee Blues" follows this track and it seems to be DJ Shadow's tribute to the Hurricane Katrina victims. It's a straight-up bluesy instrumental with no adornments whatsoever.


"Artifact" is the closest we get to "normal" DJ Shadow. The frenetic, drum-filled instrumental lasts but a couple of minutes and makes you long for the DJ Shadow of old. "Triplicate / Something Happened That Day" kind of feels like older DJ Shadow except it doesn't build up to a beat or anything, really. After this, things really start to get uneven.


"Erase You" sounds sort of like a half-hearted U.N.K.L.E. song with Chris James singing over a drum-heavy beat. "What Have I Done" is by far the worst song DJ Shadow has ever done. It feels like a parody of new age music with vocalist Christina Carter saying things like "We all are together" and "I am your healing spirit" over acoustic guitars and airy background vocals. You're tempted to stop the CD and open up your player to make sure you're listening to a DJ Shadow album.


Chris James reappears on "You Made It." James channels Thom Yorke and/or Chris Martin on a song that apes early Radiohead and current Coldplay. That somewhat pitiful song is followed by "Enuff," arguably the best hip-hop song on the album. Q-Tip and Lateef The Truth Speaker appear on this song and it's quite enjoyable (and not hyphy).


With The Outsider, DJ Shadow has thrown his fans for a loop. On this album, Shadow is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Things could have been better if Shadow had settled on one direction for the album. Some of the traditional hip-hop tracks weren't bad and the thought of DJ Shadow as beatmaker for hip-hop's best is a tantalizing one. A pure hyphy album from Shadow would not be his greatest work, but at least it would have been consistent and somewhat enjoyable. Even a pure pop album would at least be interesting.


By combining all these types of songs together without some sort of underlying theme, The Outsider feels awkward and disjointed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an artist wanting to do different stuff from what they normally do. The key thing is for the artist to realize they can't be good at everything.



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