Second Time Around

DJ Shadow
Endtroducing (Deluxe Edition) (Mo' Wax)

Endtroducing was the very first album I ever reviewed for the Bay Guardian, back in 1996, and in hindsight it may not have been the most sensible CD to pitch as an introductory assignment. Even after nine years, Endtroducing is still a challenging album to describe – parochial debates still rage over whether it was "hip-hop or not," because it lacked lyrics and didn't sound like a 45 King beat tape. These days, though, the idea of "instrumental hip-hop" (and its unfortunate bastard child, "trip-hop") is an accepted part of the musical lexicon, yet ironically, in the intervening decade, very few efforts have come remotely close to duplicating DJ Shadow's efforts – let alone legacy.

Listening to Endtroducing again, as well as the new bonus disc, "Excessive Ephemera" (packed with long out-of-print remixes and B-sides), I went in wondering if the album would sound dated. From a technical point of view, DJ Shadow's drum programming and layering of samples have become commonplace in a time when 12-year-olds can run Pro Tools off their laptops. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh Endtroducing still felt after all this time. Shadow's triumph wasn't achieved simply through finding new ways to push buttons but in orchestrating a collision of different sounds and genres and then untangling the wreckage into songs that could be poetic without words or could tell a narrative without speech.

If there's any one quality that is even more resonant now compared to 1996, it's how soulful Endtroducing is – a marked contrast to how many people wanted to herald the album as some heady exercise in avant-garde sonic intellectualism. Considering how mainstream hip-hop production now embraces impossibly perfect and shiny digital studio standards, Endtroducing still exudes the analog warmth of its sample-based aesthetic. Songs like "Mutual Slump," "Midnight in a Perfect World," and especially the sublime "What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 2" are not just inventive in their composition, but their effect also remains emotive and dramatic in a way that time and fashion have not ravaged. (Oliver Wang)