DJ Shadow Reminisces About Breaking Ground in Hip Hop

DJ Shadow

It’s hard to imagine now, 17 years after DJ Shadow released his debut album Endtroducing, but there was a time when people questioned the role of white DJs in hip hop. In the latest episode of The Hivecast With Matt Pinfield, Josh Davis -- DJ Shadow himself –- sits down with Matt to talk about becoming one of the figures who helped white kids figure out their part in hip hop's culture. It was a bumpy road for Davis, as people struggled to figure out who this guy was.

“Rap had crossed over to the mainstream, and what we were doing obviously wasn't hip hop in that sense,” Shadow explains of the “trip hop” artists who rose to prominence in the mid-'90s, including Portishead and Massive Attack. “Even though what Jeff Barrow of Portishead and I and others were doing was taking our lifelong experience with hip hop and applying our own existence to it. I didn't grow up in New York City, I didn't grow up in Compton, obviously, and yet my entire vision and my entire social sensibility and political sensibility were steered throughout my teenage years by hip hop. I wanted to contribute, but I didn't want to imitate. And that's when I started coming up with this sound that felt like it had my personality on it.”

The sound may have had his personality on it, but the press didn’t quite get his image. “The media was trying to figure out what to call it,” he laughs. “I remember early on doing a photoshoot for either NME or Melody Maker, and they had this pre-conceived idea of what I must be like: They wanted me to wear this giant Dr. Seuss hat and be smoking a giant, five-foot long spliff. And I just walked in and said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not doing that.' I think people were sort of like, 'Where are these people coming from, and are they really hip hop?' That was one of those things I used to really relish in. For years, it seemed like people really wanted to test if I knew my stuff or not.” Check out the rest of the episode to hear exactly how deep Shadow’s knowledge runs. [Download & subscribe to the Hivecast via iTunes.]

The Hivecast With Matt Pinfield: DJ Shadow