DJ Shadow The Outsider

[Univseral Music; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: hyphy, hip-hop, turntabalism
Others: RJD2, DJ Krush, Four Tet, Koushik, David Banner, Rick Rubin

Josh Davis is renowned for his contributions to instrumental hip-hop, the full-length album, and stoner parties everywhere. '96 saw the release of Entroducing, a collection of tracks that fit together so perfectly that Lego should be using them for promotional purposes. Six years later, The Private Press introduced a heavier element to the mix, while inching away from the flow that made Entroducing so popular amongst in-the-know high school students and everybody else over 20. The Outsider, Shadow's latest release, is an order of magnitude away from Entroducing on just about every level, but still manages to retain Shadow's knack for creating captivating music.

Combining 17 tracks in just shy of 70 minutes, Davis has constructed his most diverse yet most controversial album since his seminal debut. Early reports from the blogosphere (whatever that is) shouted from the digital treetops that Davis had sold out and was sucking from the infected teat of the industry. Responses from some of our very own stable of writers also declared the album disappointing. While The Outsider sounds nothing like Entroducing, which seemed to be the root for most dissenters, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The musical landscape is different in '06 (although hip-hop still sucks), and another instrumental DJ album just wouldn't cut it, as the art-form is oversaturated.

Instead, we're presented with a mish-mash of genres, eclipsing indie rock, blues, ambient, breakcore (kinda), hip-hop, and its little brother hyphy. Ahhh... hyphy, the little known runt of hip-hop made popular in the Bay Area and now through this album. Keak Da Sneak, Nump, Animaniaks, and The Federation were probably the least likely contestants on this variety show, but expected or not, they showed up and brought some fucking HEAT.

The Federation and Animaniaks, specifically, are a highlight, bringing "Turf Talking" to the masses with a huge beat, a variety of vocal styles, and an imposing presence. It's the most "hyphy" track on the album and the furthest from the vintage Shadow sound, while still remaining under the hip-hop umbrella. The album switches gears after David Banner's contribution to awareness on Katrina and showcases Shadow's ability to produce guitars, drums, and ambient noise. While they aren't groundbreaking musically, these four tracks reveal another layer of Davis' incredible ear for music. The final block of tracks seems influenced by Radiohead, spoken word, and ummm... Coldplay. Seriously, Chris James (of UK band Stateless) sounds a little like Chris Martin, but the music itself is much more interesting than any Coldplay composition. Christina Carter (of Charalambides fame) presents a minimal combination of hushed background singing and mostly spoken word for vocals. Brief guitar flourishes and string-swells give the track a slight fantasy/medieval feeling, but it isn't overwhelming. E-40 rounds out the album with "Dat's my Part," a brief relapse into the aggressive hip-hop that started this whole affair.

The songs seemed to be grouped intentionally (or logically) in blocks, which works in the favor of polar-opposite tracks like "Turf Talking" and "What Have I Done." Shadow has updated his signature sound to coincide with recent progressions in the industry, most noticeably the rise of iTunes and digital music. The Outsider screams to be downloaded in sections by fans of specific genres, especially those who don't enjoy treading new water. If you're touched with a bit of ADD or you're bored easily like myself, you may find a new home with The Outsider.

1. Outsider Intro
2. This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)
3. 3 Freaks featuring Keak Da Sneak & Turf Talk
4. Droop-E Drop
5. Turf Dancing featuring The Federation & Animaniaks
6. Keep Em Close featuring Nump
7. Seein Thangs featuring David Banner
8. Broken Levee Blues
9. Artifact
10. Backstage Girl featuring Phonte Coleman
11. Triplicate / Something Happened That Day
12. The Tiger featuring Sergio Pizzorno & Christopher Karloff
13. Erase You featuring Chris James
14. What Have I Done featuring Christina Carter
15. You Made It featuring Chris James
16. Enuff featuring Q-Tip & Lateef The Truth Speaker
17. Dats My Part featuring E-40