DJ Shadow on his love of James Brown, his thirst for new music, and why Dr Dre sounds like home

From The Guardian:

During his most intense period of collecting, Josh Davis, alias DJ Shadow, would spend several hours a day in the basement of Rare Records in his native Sacramento, California, only breaking from his hunt for unusual sounds when he was out of money or in need of sunlight.

The same shop was immortalised on the cover of his debut album, 1996’s Endtroducing…, which put some of that secondhand vinyl to creative new use. An instrumental hip-hop record constructed entirely from samples but sounding unlike anything that had come before, Endtroducing… suggested that, with a little imagination, there were few limits to the music that could be made by one man and his record collection.

Although Davis never made quite the same impact again, he has continued to innovate, most recently by releasing tracks from his archive in partnership with filesharing service BitTorrent. It’s his attempt to negotiate the brave new world of digital music and actually get paid. (A more conventional 16-track overview of his career, Reconstructed, is released 3 September).

“Some people say that if you’re a true artist you shouldn’t worry about money,” says Davis. “But that’s silly. Food isn’t getting cheaper. It’s good to get your music out there to an audience but no one can work for free. At some point you have to ask: ‘Do I feel I’m being fairly compensated or not?”. That’s the battle line for artists now.”


Mother Popcorn, James Brown (1969)

Everything I love about music stems from James Brown. If you grow up on rock’n’roll you might idolise Chuck Berry, but for me it’s James Brown because he laid the foundations not only for funk but for hip-hop as well.

I first heard this in the late 80s. There was a used record store in my home town and I can remember my first trip there, a “digging” trip, meaning I was now spending my paper-route money not on new hip-hop records but old soul records and rock records. I would buy James Brown records sight unseen.

By around 1987, I was starting to find old records around the same time that hip-hop artists I liked were using them for samples. I remember finding the 45 of I Know You Got Soul by Bobby Byrd concurrent to it being sampled by Eric B & Rakim. I started to think: if I’m finding Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul in my dad’s collection, and Public Enemy are using it on Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, I’m kind of on the same wavelength. So maybe I should start making my own beats.


Al-Naafiysh (The Soul), Hashim (1983)

I first heard this on the radio in the mid-80s. Trying to find rap on the radio at that time was frustrating, especially outside of New York or LA. But there were a couple of clued-in DJs on a Bay Area soul station called KSOL and I learned their schedule – they were on during lunch hour and Friday and Saturday nights until midnight.

I was 12 or 13 at the time and in junior high school. I was a typical Californian kid who grew up collecting comics, but by 1985 I was hawking them so I had money to buy hip-hop records. That was the turning point. I became a collector and I wanted everything.

There are no embarrassing old photos of me trying to be a B-boy because I couldn’t afford the clothes. I also needed to survive at school – I didn’t want to get beaten up. The other kids were mostly into rock or metal, so there were lots of Metallica fans in jean jackets, as they were a big local band. But I did have my two or three friends who liked hip-hop and we stayed in touch for years.

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