DJ Shadow – “Midnight in a Perfect World”

DJ Shadow‘s debut Endtroducing… is a masterpiece, one of the greatest instrumental records ever made. It’s hauntingly beautiful; a complex and evocative piece of work which is a testament to the art of crate-digging, turntablism, and production. It’s a genre-defining record which made its creator one of the most sought-after producers of the late ’90s. A listen you experience, and one which will resonate with you long after it’s done.

Hailing from the Bay Area, DJ Shadow was a member of Solesides, a music collective turned record label based out of the University of California, Davis, which included BlackaliciousLatyrx (Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truthspeaker), and hip-hop scholar Jeff Chang. A deejay at the university’s radio station, Shadow caught attention for his early mixes, his penchant for collecting records, and his skills on a beat machine. Signing with the UK-based label Mo’ Wax, he got to work on his debut. Inspired by The Bomb Squad and Prince Paul, Shadow’s goal was to create an entirely sample-based album, and he spent the better part of two years digging up obscure records to load into his Akai MPC sampler, finding just the right snippets to build his music.

Released in late 1996, Endtroducing… was, and still very much is, a completely different beast. Critically lauded, the album was included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first album made entirely from samples (and would be an inspiration to future artists). While Public EnemyDe La Soul, and The Beastie Boys had created sample-heavy albums, no artist had come close to what Shadow had created in mood and scope. Endtroducing…‘s insular feel and ominous soundscapes feel rooted in hip-hop, but jump off into something else entirely. In one moment, the album can be outright unsettling, and in another it can be spastic and peculiar. It’s lo-fi, from the low resolution of the samples to the bassy, spaced out feel of the MPC’s drum hits. Shadow’s masterful efforts at recontextualization give the songs and vocal snippets sampled an entirely new life and mood, even making a comedy routine sound like a horrifying ordeal on one of the album’s highlights, “Stem/Long Stem.” The record feels overwhelmingly dark, atmospheric, and otherworldly, and really, there are moments here where it’ll get under your skin, and moments where it will completely captivate.

This track is a bit more positive, though. “Midnight in a Perfect World” is a fitting title: It’s a beautiful piece of music, with the chorus and angelic singing, that overwhelmingly reassuring piano melody (a perfect addition from David Axelrod‘s “The Human Abstract”), and the dreamlike feel. You get lost in this song, and it feels powerful, emotive, and freeing. Hit play and close your eyes.