DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) is widely credited as a key figure in developing the experimental instrumental hip-hop style associated with the London-based Mo’ Wax label. Inspired by hip-hop’s early years, he then grew to absorb the heyday of crews like Eric B. & Rakim, Ultramagnetic MCs, and Public Enemy; groups which prominently featured DJs in their ranks.
Josh “Shadow” Davis had already been experimenting with making beats and breaks on a four-track recorder while he was in high school in the Nor-Cal college town of Davis, but it was during university that he co-founded his own Solesides label as an outlet for his original tracks. Hooking up with Davis’ few b-boys (including eventual Solesides artists Blackalicious and Lyrics Born) through the college radio station, Shadow began releasing the Hip-Hop Reconstruction mix tapes in 1991, eventually catching the attention of The Source magazine and Dave Funkenklein. Shadow was featured in the magazine’s “Unsigned Hype” column in 1991, and Klein signed him to a production deal with Hollywood BASIC records. Concurrently, Shadow provided beats and scratches for Bay Area rapper Paris and was featured on his second album. In 1993, Shadow pressed his 17-minute beat-head symphony “Entropy.” His tracks spread widely through the DJ-strong hip-hop underground, eventually reaching James Lavelle of Mo’ Wax.
Shadow’s first full-length, “Endtroducing…”, was released on the label in late 1996 to immense critical acclaim in Britain and America. “Preemptive Strike,” a compilation of early singles, followed in early 1998. Later that year, Shadow produced tracks for the debut album by U.N.K.L.E., a long-time Mo’ Wax production team that gained superstar guests including Thom Yorke (of Radiohead), Richard Ashcroft (of the Verve), Mike D (of the Beastie Boys), and others.
His next project came in 1999, with the transformation of Solesides into a new label, Quannum Projects. Nearly six years after his debut production album, the proper follow-up, “The Private Press,” was released in June 2002. The following year Shadow released a mix album, “Diminishing Returns,” and in 2004 he released a live album and DVD, “Live! In Tune and on Time.” In 2006 he released another long awaited full-length album “The Outsider,” which featured rising Bay Area Hyphy rappers including Keak Da Sneak and E-40. “The Outsider” also featured a single with Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest), which led to Shadow’s first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Between 2007 and 2009 Shadow released three volumes of “The 4-Track Era Collection,” a series of his earliest recordings. The 4-Track Era project was exclusively available through his web store, ShopDjShadow.com. In the midst of all of these solo projects, DJ Shadow collaborated with fellow hip-hop DJ Cut Chemist. Together they created a series of mixes that fused soul, funk, and rock, in the framework of a cohesive concept involving using only 45 rpm records (7 inches). These mixes include Brainfreeze, Product Placement, and The Hard Sell, which would be debuted at the Hollywood Bowl.
Shadow’s website relaunched in August 2009, enabling him to sell digital downloads direct to his fans through his own autonomous storefront. 2009 also saw the announcement of Shadow’s involvement with DJ Hero, an Activision video game which features Shadow as a playable character within the game. Shadow also contributed several mixes to the game.
2010 and 2011 saw a tour throughout Europe and North America entitled “Live From The Shadowsphere.” Hailed for its visual innovations, the tour was cited by Beatport as one of the top 10 DJ shows of all time, and was capped off by two memorable performances at the Coachella Festival.
In 2011, DJ Shadow released “The Less You Know, The Better,” purportedly his last full-length album to prominently feature samples. 2012 included “Total Breakdown, Hidden Transmissions From The MPC Era (1992-1996),” an archival project; and “Reconstructed: The Best of DJ Shadow,” a greatest hits album.
2012 saw a shift in Shadow’s live persona…at the request of trendsetting LA club night Low End Theory, he returned to playing traditional, contemporary DJ sets, often eschewing his own music for that of peers.
The hard-hitting sets Shadow played coexisted with the rise of trap, juke, and the fledgling beat scene, catching the ear of large-scale EDM icons such as Diplo and Bassnectar, with whom Shadow performed. An incident at a Miami superclub, in which Shadow refused to temper his set to suit management, was captured on video and went viral, prompting a debate about the autonomy of DJs and the music they play. This only seemed to heighten demand for Shadow as 2013 reportedly saw him play over 100 shows.
Also in 2013, Shadow lent a hand to video game franchise Grand Theft Auto V, compiling and arranging elements of the soundtrack. Notable was his return to production, crafting a remix for Machinedrum, (whom Shadow performed with at Fabric in London and Amsterdam) and ‘70s Dutch progressive band Supersister, who Shadow had previously sampled. In 2014, Shadow toured Australia and performed at SXSW for Vice.
According to his Twitter account, Shadow plans to spend time in the studio and continue to perform his contemporary DJ sets. He has indicated that a new, “very different” type of tour is planned for the Fall of 2014.
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