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For the longest time, I imagined a scenario going down at Casa Shadow: The man himself, Josh Davis, walks into the living room, where a commemorative, gold-plated Endtroducing . . . is framed above the fireplace mantle. He looks up at it and smiles—first proudly, then wanly. He leaves the room, comes back in, looks up again. His face turns red, and his blood begins to boil. He rips the album off the wall and, with a frustrated howl, dashes it to the ground. It shatters. He looks down at the shards for a long while, slowly cleans up the mess, then sheepishly brings the disc to the framing shop down the street for repairs. This plays out again and again in a two-bar loop over the years.
Far-fetched? Maybe. After all, despite all the love and acclaim over the past 16 years, Endtroducing . . . hasn't gone gold yet. (Cred-wise, if not bank account-wise, Shadow shouldn't feel too terrible about that—the Ramones famously never scored a gold album for any of their studio LPs either; only their 1988 hits compilation, Ramones Mania, achieved that.)
But Shadow has had a tough time dealing with the giant legacy of Endtroducing . . ., even if he has always put a brave face on it. In an interview with Gigwise.com last year, he maintained the album never felt like an albatross to him. However, "If that will always be 'the record,' then so be it; that's cool," he added. "It took me a long time to reconcile with the fact that people are often fans of records rather than artists. For a while, I used to go, 'How come the same people who bought Entroducing . . . don't wanna buy The Private Press?' And it took me a long time to sort of go, 'Well, listen, it was a Zeitgeist album'—just like this week, it's a different album, the one album people feel that they need to buy, even if they just buy one album a year."
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He could be right. Plenty of people fell for the mood, sound and style of Endtroducing . . ., a meticulously crafted collage of samples that's an atmospheric, soulful, haunting, occasionally playful, transportive listen all these years later—and maybe that's all they wanted or needed from Shadow.
But there were also plenty of people willing to take a trip with Shadow and plunk down their cash for albums bearing his name—trusting in his artistic track record, open to being pulled in whatever creative direction he's moving. I definitely felt that way, and I was hardly disappointed in 2002's The Private Press, which I thought was a natural progression and frequently came off as soulful and inventive as its predecessor.
Shadow has also had some misses, though. Take 2006's hyphy-drenched The Outsider—which suffered from Shadow's obsession with breaking from his past and all the expectations of his art at the expense of good tunes—and last year's muddled The Less You Know, the Better, which seemed a half-hearted capitulation to the past. Neither was terrible, but each wasn't a particularly exciting listen, either, unlike Endtroducing . . ., which primed me for the DJ's career all those years ago, no matter which path/genre/mood he explored. I never wanted an Endtroducing . . . Part Two; I just wanted something forward-thinking and thrilling, and lately, I haven't gotten it.
At the same time, I've been hesitant to write Shadow off completely. The guy commands respect, admiration and fondness. He has always come off exceedingly humble and sincere. His dedication to hip-hop, funk and soul is undeniable; his unceasing deference to the giants on whose shoulders he stands is laudable. He has one towering, self-contained achievement to his name, as well as plenty of good tracks spread out across the rest of his career. And he has seen his ideas—however risky or ill-advised—through to completion, and he appears to have the urge to keep at it.
Shadow has been looking back with a couple of projects this year: Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions From the MPC Era, 1992-1996 (compiling his pre-Endtroducing . . . experiments) and Reconstructed: The Best of DJ Shadow, issued as a single CD, a 2-CD set and a definitive (and beautifully packaged) box set limited to 500 signed copies.
I hope this extended visit to the past doesn't mean he's thinking about giving in entirely, handing all the fans who want it something closely resembling Endtroducing . . . for the next outing. Even though that sort of catering is hardly unprecedented in music these days (and because parts of The Less You Know seemed to suggest he's looking backward creatively), I'd like to believe Shadow has at least one forward-thinking thriller left in him.