June 8, 2011

The masses abandoned Shadow on The Outsider, when he attempted to recast himself squarely within the Bay Area hip-hop lineage — right where he’s always belonged. Since he was a teenager submitting mixes to K-MEL, Shadow has been the definition of hip-hop: he takes influences from everything from forgotten records to found sounds to classic funk, and doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about his frequent off-road experiments. So when the frosh-soph crowd that he wowed on Endtroducing and Brainfreeze abandoned him after his half-good hyphy jags with Keak Da Sneak, he took it in stride. So it goes when your fanbase is more Girl Talk than Turf Talk.

Since then, he’s stuck to his schedule of half-decade hiatuses between full-lengths. In the interim, Clams Casino has become the new platter du jour and no one really gives a fuck about Josh Davis except for the die hards willing to follow his idiosyncratic dips and dives. And as much as I understand the impulse to relive your dorm room years with incense and Indica and sample-based psychedelia, Shadow is worth paying attention to even if he’s not always effective. Or as Sach put: DJ Shadow started this abstract instrumental Hip-Hop shit and that’s the motherfucking thanks he gets? Released as a teaser for a full-length reportedly out this Fall, Shadow’s I Gotta Rokk EP compiles two tracks (“Def Surrounds Us” and “I’ve Been Trying”) that he briefly leaked last fall, plus “I Gotta Rokk” (see video below), and a trio of remixes that are pretty much for strictly fan club members only.

At the time, I described “Def Surrounds Us” as an eight-minute fire alarm of frantic ideas and several mini-suites. It opens like an early British grime track before descending into subterranean bass lines and Benedictine-style chants. By its midpoint, it sounds like a house-inflected Kode9 or Actress production that could fit nicely into the contemporary bass music world. It then suddenly settles into a coda of a pretty piano lilt. “I’ve Been Trying,” channeling a rustic Laurel Canyon vibe, like a fully formed outtakes from an early 1970s Stephen Stills record or something on Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Meanwhile, “I Gotta Rokk” sounds like Shadow’s attempt to make “Takeover.”

Amounted together, they’re more evidence that Josh Davis applies an expert’s knowledge to a dilettantish approach. The new EP is all over the place, but in an ingratiating way. It’s frenetic and face-slapping, but never dull. Plus, the video for “I Gotta Rokk” more than makes up for any lost goodwill during his frequent disappearances and diatribes against modernity. I’m posting “I’ve Been Trying Below,” but grab it quick. Shadow is notoriously contemptuous of free downloads. So buy the record if you like it. We all probably owe him some sort of thanks.

MP3: DJ Shadow-“I’ve Been Trying” (Left-Click)

DJ Shadow: KMEL Mix #4 (1991) by Pati3nt Zer0

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