In the first stretch of DJ Shadow’s career, the instrumental hip-hop producer made a name for himself by operating via a strict, simple rule; his music was created entirely via samples—no live instrumentation was allowed (his debut, Endtroducing, holds the Guinness World Record as the first album created entirely from samples).
Then, suddenly, on his third album The Outsider, Shadow decided to break this rule and rip into a big stack of drum machines and keyboards to create rap tracks aligned with the Bay Area’s then-trendy hyphy movement. That’s when all hell broke loose. The album was commercially unsuccessful, which would have been the case whether it was all samples or not, but Shadow fanboys and hip-hop purists flipped out on Internet comment boards and critics were equally displeased.
Okayplayer wrote, “Though any artist ought to be lauded for experimentation, Shadow veers too far from his base, and loses sight of what made his music so captivating in the first place.” Stylus gave the album a D: “He’s saying fuck you not only to new fans with The Outsider, but also to old ones.”
The real problem here, though, wasn’t so much Shadow’s new MO. It was how he’d assembled the album. His first two albums were carefully sequenced, with everything in its right place. The Outsider, though, felt like Shadow just threw everything he’d done for the last couple years on a disc (his next album, The Less You Know, The Better, suffered from the same problem).
But once you sort through it, there are some treasures here. On the hyphy tracks, “Three Freaks,” “Turf Dancing,” “Keep Em Close” and “Dats My Part,” Shadow nails the genre’s manic energy. Meanwhile, the David Banner feature “Seein’ Thangs” is one of the best Katrina dedications on wax. “Artifact (Instrumental)” rebuilds an anonymous punk jam into something otherworldly. And “The Tiger” sees Shadow back in the ethereal trip-hop territory fans evidently wanted him to remain firmly within.