“Bom bom BOMMMM, Bom Bom BOMMMM, Waaaah…. I am born again… An Airbag saved my life…”
I know you love my impressions (my talents are wasted) but, just in case you didn’t get it, that is what you hear when you press play having selected “OK Computer” by Radiohead – without doubt one of the 10 greatest albums of all time, any genre. That first track “Airbag” is the perfect opening song, and the playful nature in which the drums are cut up is a direct homage to DJ Shadow. Thom Yorke said it himself, and the sampled, cut-up drum patterns that pepper the groundbreaking instrumental “Endtroducing…” influenced his thinking at the evolutionary stage of “OK Computer.”
When you return to the original source material, you realise that Radiohead paid homage to DJ Shadow’s work, but didn’t even contemplate trying to surpass the drums. In fact, to even call “Endtroducing…” the “original source material” is misnomer – it is, rather was, the very first album to be entirely constructed of samples (it is in the Guinness Book of Records for this fact). Yes, every single sound on the LP was a sample fed manually into Shadow’s Akai MPC-60. Once you listen to the work as a whole and, more importantly, digest it, try letting it sink into your psyche just how painstakingly put together it was. The first full track “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” is impressive, sure. Haunting, yes. But wait until you’re a few minutes in and the drums start to get playful. It is immediately jolting and inspiring in equal measure.
The eerily beautiful “Changeling” is deceptively simple yet layered to the point of perfection. The lounge music evocative of the mid-90’s Bristol trip hop scene (Massive Attack, Tricky et al) is evoked on “What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 4.” The unexpectedly clever way that an organ is cut up on “Organ Donor” will turn your look into an admiring gaze. The cutting satire of the 44 second skit “Why Hip-Hop Sucks In ’96” sums up elements of an era and its’ failings in under a minute. The ethereal melody of “Midnight In A Perfect World” sings a sweet lullaby that would send the most restless baby to sleep.
“Endtroducing…” manages to create a mood onto which you can project anything – this is, perhaps, the primary triumph. Whether it is the background music at a party, music to help you study to, music to deliberately scare your girl to (so that she will need you for comfort), pretty much anything… Your first listen may prove relatively unremarkable, but after that it will be on repeat as your first port of call for many a situation. If anything, this album deserved to have been the “Tubular Bells” or “Dark Side of the Moon” for the 1990’s generation. Perhaps it never quite reached such iconic for one reason – it is hip hop, and was in direct contrast to the hip hop that found global fame in 1996. Coupled with it finding its’ feet on a small UK label, it ended up need the leg-up from artists such as Thom Yorke – those at the top of the food chain that appreciated that a few words could help divert mainstream focus to a deserving influence.
If Miles Davis had been making hip hop in 1996, this is what he would have sounded like. To take an inanimate instrument, breathe air and vigour into it, and make it spring to life. Whichever wonderful spirit possessed DJ Shadow to make this album came and went, never to be heard from again. It isn’t immediate pop music, it is just music. No more, no less. Who said that hip hop has to have an MC spitting over it? This album generated a thousand imitators, and a countless many owe debts of gratitude to DJ Shadow for this. What came before and after is of no importance – the only thing that ever matters is the here and now. This space between you and me. The crispness of a snare. The vibration of the air spouting from a sub woofer. The sound of a perfectly executed scratch. The screen you read this on. That is all that matters right now, so enjoy it before it is too late. Nothing ever lasts forever.