DJ Shadow On Sampling As A ‘Collage Of Mistakes’

From WBUR:

In 1996, a 24-year-old from the suburbs of San Francisco released a hip-hop record that changed perceptions not only of hip-hop, but also recorded music at large. Endtroducing….., the full-length debut of the producer DJ Shadow, was constructed almost entirely from samples of pre-existing recordings and was perhaps the first such album to reach a wide audience.

More than 15 years later, DJ Shadow, whose real name is Josh Davis, is enjoying the sort of milestone usually afforded to artists like John Coltrane or The Beatles: His collected works are being released in a limited-edition box set called Reconstructed. Davis spoke with NPR’s Guy Raz about where he finds his source material, how sampling can spark interest in forgotten artists and why he does his best work when he’s alone. Hear the radio version at the audio link on this page and read more of their conversation below.

GUY RAZ: You were 24 when Endtroducing….. was released. What did you set out to do with that album?

DJ SHADOW: It’s interesting: Sometimes people forget that although Endtroducing….. is my first album, it’s actually five years into my career of putting out records. I had put out a lot of singles on various labels, had done a lot of remixes, had done a lot of production for other artists, primarily MCs. The reason it’s spelled E-N-D at the beginning was because I saw it as the final chapter in a number of singles that I had done already.

This was the end of the introduction?

Exactly. It was the final statement at that time.

The cover of that record is two young men flipping through crates of records at a record shop. I imagine that’s what you were doing when you made this album: flipping through records and listening to things, figuring out how to piece them together.

I call it a collage. For people unfamiliar to sampling and its history and how it evolved, I think that’s the best way to explain it. It’s taking little pieces from here, adding it to little pieces from there — as many different disparate elements as you can find — and making something totally new out of it. Literally down to, not just the drums from one record, but the snare from one record, the kick from another record, the bass line or part of a bass line from another record, putting it all together. That’s one hurdle. But then, actually having it articulate something and channel my inspiration through it — to be able to tell a story in that way is the second hurdle. Just throwing a bunch of things together may not be very interesting.

The instrument that I grew up wanting to play [is] the sampler. And it’s the instrument I took seriously in terms of becoming the best at it, or one of the best. I think, initially in the late ’80s when the technology was made available, the instant reaction to it by the old guard at that time was, ‘Well, [sampling] is just out-and-out theft. It’s stealing.’ And I think I’ve learned to recognize all sides of that discussion. But I think what Endtroducing….. did for a lot of people was kind of close the book on that discussion and say, OK, this is legitimate. This is a legitimate new way of making music.

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