DJ Shadow – The Outsider

DJ ShadowIt is sometimes hard to be objective when I’m writing about music. I’ve likened it before to the Simpsons episode where Homer becomes a food critic; everything is “8 thumbs up!”. It’s harder still when I write about an artist or band that I’m blatantly a fan of. Whilst I’d like to think I tell it as it is, but I think I go too easy on some people. So I’m left in an almost impossible position with DJ Shadow’s album, The Outsider. For those of you not in the know, Shadow has abandoned the cinematic, “trip-hop” soundscapes of his first two albums and made a more “orthodox” hip-hop album. Of course, Shadow has always claimed his albums have been hip-hop and the style of The Outsider is modeled on the San Fransisco based sub-genre of hip-hop, “Hyphy” an E-fulled atonal west coast version of Crunk.

So far, so surprising. The derision this change in style has been met with has been, to my mind, staggering. Sure, it’s not Dylan goes electric, but I feel some objectivity is needed. The Outsider is a good album, if not necessarily a good DJ Shadow album (at least not as we know it). This is a tightly produced hip-hop album, almost defiantly minimal and designed to be heard in clubs and at parties. There’s some rockin’ instrumentals (Artifact, Broken Levee Blues), soul (“This Time (I’m going To Try It My Way)”), down-tempo narratives (“Backstage Girl”) and tracks with multiple segments (“Triplicate/Something Happened That Day”).

So why the change is style? Rather than fathom someone’s musical motives, I found two articles which are enlightening:

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and it suddenly occurred to me… what if it was just hipster bullshit? In the same way that a record comes out and everybody’s got to have it – it’s a water-cooler record, you know, but 9 out of 10 people are only buying it because somebody told them to. And what if that’s all Endtroducing (seminal 1996 debut album and a personal favourite) was? I have to be willing to accept that possibility.” (Filter magazine,Summer 2006)

“This seems down to a highly traumatic year in which his twin daughters were born monoamniotic, a rare condition where both grow in the amniotic sac – dangerous for both mother and children. Thankfully all three are fine, but the near tragedy brought Shadow to the realisation that much of the rarer-than-thou, “is this cool in Japan?” scene he had inadvertently created was “bullshit”

“This time I really didn’t give a fuck,” (Arena September 2006)

So, what to make of The Outsider? I think there’s two ways of looking at it:

  1. DJ Shado, newly signed to the Universal (a major label), has felt the pressure to make a more accessible and commercially viable record. Hence The Outsider
  2. DJ Shadow has returned to his Bay area, Hip-hop roots; as a member of the Solesides and Quannum collectives, he was a key player in Bay area Hip-hop for almost 10 years ( he got his first mix on the radio aged 14). Recent family trauma has meant he’s decided to simply make the record he wants. Hence The Outsider.

Whatever way you and I look at it is irrelevant. DJ Shadow, forever himself the Outsider, is ddefiantly doing what he wants. Whether or not we, as long time fans or not, are with him is up to us.

DJ Shadow – This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way):


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