Um, That's Hip- (Not Trip-) Hop

DJ Shadow became a hip name to drop in the new wave of hip-

hop with the

release, exactly a year ago, of his debut album Endtroducing ...

. (You might recall its poignant and understated sleeve: no

words alluding to title or

artist -- just a couple of dudes leafing through endless racks of

vinyl in a

music store totally dedicated to 12-inch wax.) The real hipsters,

however,

had already discovered Shadow by picking up

import copies of his releases on the trend-setting U.K. label Mo

Wax (home

also to DJ Krush, U.N.K.L.E. and a bunch of other mad scratch 'n'

mix beat

artists).

Preemptive Strike, an "interim" record beloved in the music

industry these days, gathers up those overseas releases and

throws in a

25-minute mega-mix CD as a bonus. The album allows those who

don't or

didn't frequent the import stores to get up-to-date, and provides

completists the chance to fill in what they might have missed -- not

to mention the fact it chronicles the musical progression of one of

America's more intriguing new

artists -- and the label that spawned him.

Mo Wax emerged in London in the early '90s, its downbeat

sounds like a

breath of experimental fresh air at a time when most break-beat

dance music

was relentlessly up-tempo. As such, Mo Wax music was often

described as

"trip hop," the then-nascent term a seemingly accurate description

for a

sound that owed much to the New York DJ culture that gave birth

to rap, but that was more intrigued by rhythms than rhymes, more

interested in psychedelia than in orthodoxy. Into this adventurous

musical melting pop stepped DJ Shadow (aka Josh Davis, a

northern California white kid then in his early '20s),

whose 1993 debut In/Flux immediately turned headz with

its collage of spoken word, far-eastern sounds, enormous phat

hip-hop beats (of varying

tempo), jazz basslines, strings and poetry, a journey in found

sound that

traveled through several cultures and generations over the course

of an

ambitious 12 minutes. As the opening cut on Preemptive

Strike,

"In/Flux" sounds, five years after its release, just about

contemporary

-- which only goes to show how far ahead of its time it truly was.

Shadow followed up with the four-part What Does Your Soul

Look Like EP in

early 1995, which continued where In/Flux (and its sparse

flip side

"Hindsight") left off. Melody was again restricted -- the gentle

house

piano line of "Soul Part 3" a rare exception -- and length continued

to

worry him none. "Soul Part 2" passed through four minutes of

choral vocals

and a sparse, Pink Floyd-like guitar line before the drums even

kicked in.

A full 10 minutes later, by which point an awful lot of not-very-much

had

dreamily sauntered by, that seven-note guitar refrain was still

ticking

over. Like The Orb, with whom he has a lot in common, DJ

Shadow was determined to make music that would not be rushed.

(Despite record company claims that none of Preemptive

Strike has been

available domestically, Parts 1 and 4 of What Does Your Soul

Look Like

both also appeared on Endtroducing... in near-enough

identical form as to

make no difference.)

For all these references to trip-hop and ambient, Shadow insists

that he is

a hip-hop musician, through-and-through. He might be. But his

music sounds

nothing like that which forms the basis of today's mega-platinum

rap albums.

Shadow's brand of hip-hop is a return to the original purity of the

genre, a

period when break-dancing and graffiti artistry were just as

important as

rappers, back when dee jays mixed up a variety of beats and

sounds to create

an entirely new groove rather than simply sampling a well-worn

pop hit for

easy recognition. In that sense, Shadow's music is pop art in the

tradition of Roy Lichtenstein, it's cut-up experimental collage in the

wake

of William Burroughs or Bryon Gison; like these icons of American

culture, and like all the best dee jays, what he appropriates from a

previous context he immediately redefines in a fresh one.

This is highly evident in the two final pieces on Preemptive

Strike. (The

bonus CD mega-mix by DJ Q-Bert is exactly that, a light-spirited

freebie

using some of the best components of Preemptive Strike

and scratching them all to hell.) "High Noon" takes a fuzzy guitar

line from some

long-forgotten song, places a wicked drum track underneath,

builds it up

with some synthesizer, and turns in a piece of jazzy big beat

soundtrack

music that many members of the hip new British electronica

contingent would

do well to emulate. "Organ Donor" steals a fugue-like keyboard

part to form

the basis of a similarly bumpy but entertaining voyage. With these

songs,

released as a Mo Wax single late last year, Shadow suggests that

he is

becoming steadily more interested in both the dance floor and the

radio.

That's fine by me: Shadow has already taken sparseness and

lengthy

repetition to its left-field limit, yet music so cleverly composed and

astutely arranged deserves a wider audience. Preemptive

Strike demonstrates that while in the past his appeal has been

confined mainly to hipsters who frequent import shops, his future

might yet meld with the mainstream.