Inquiring Minds

DJ Shadow, Sampling Icon and Master Beatmaker, Reigns Supreme

DJ Shadow, Sampling Icon and Master Beatmaker, Reigns Supreme
Photo by Derek Daily/Courtesy of Shorefire Media
For something like a quarter-century, DJ Shadow has been creating beats and manufacturing and blending sonics influenced by hip-hop culture. His craft has existed on the periphery of the mainstream, but he’s never quit and continues to innovate.

His tour supporting a new EP, The Mountain Will Fall, swings its way through Texas this weekend. And it’s a grueling stretch for the fortysomething DJ legend. He hits a little more than 50 cities around the world promoting his latest album of the same name.

While performing behind the boards is one of those do-what-you-love jobs for Shadow, he says the touring has a downside.

“This year I think I’m only home a total of two weeks between now and mid-October, ” Shadow, whose real name is Josh Davis, says from a hotel room somewhere in England.

DJ Shadow ft. Run The Jewels - Nobody Speak from Sam Pilling on Vimeo.

The biggest issue at hand is that he has a pair of kids he has to get back to at some point.

“It’s hard, and it only got harder," he says. "The first few years it wasn’t that hard because they’re babies, and then they’re toddlers, and they just kind of have their little world there at home, but as soon as they start going to school and growing up a little bit and becoming more aware of things going on in the world, you just want to be around them. That’s definitely the hardest part of my job.”

The upside of all this, though, is that DJ Shadow is at a point in his career where he gets to work with his musical heroes, which isn’t so bad. For example, the track he recorded with Nas that opened the latest season of the HBO show Silicon Valley.

“I’m super-stoked that it happened,” he says about the collaboration. “What can you say about Nas?” I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of my favorite MCs of all time in the last 25 years.”

And in that time, he’s not only worked with some of the best in music, but, being the sampling trailblazer and producer that he is, DJ Shadow has also crafted quite an epic record collection.

Part of that stockpile was built via trips to Texas, he says.

“I’ve been coming out there for a long time, primarily digging,” he says. “All through the '90s, I spent a ton of time in the state of Texas; all over Texas, Austin and San Antonio, but also Dallas and Houston.” For the record, he says his first stop in the Bayou City was for a 1999 show with his rap crew Latyrx.

It’s an obsession, but also part of the job.

“Being a DJ for me means discovering music, sharing it," he says. "Also for me, I’m lucky enough to make it and have a platform to release it. Music is a positive thing. A lot of what I do doesn’t feel much like work.”

His “not like work” attitude has also brought him to the public-radio airwaves with his L.A.-based show Find, Share, Rewind.

In a nutshell, it’s a once-a-month musical appreciation show. “I spend a week out of every month putting this show together and it just plays one time. I enjoy doing it. It’s not something I make money off; it’s all part of being a DJ,” he admits.

Still, he’s no slave to the stereotype of the vinyl-junkie DJ some might take him for.

“To me, paying $30 for an LP that’s probably going to sit on my shelf isn’t worth it. My philosophy about vinyl is if I’m playing like a James Brown song, or I’m playing a song that was released on vinyl in its original format, then that’s the format I’m going to play it on,” DJ Shadow explains. “But this is the download era, the streaming era, and to me most contemporary music, that’s the format that it’s intended to be on. I’m not a format snob.”

The digital genius that he’s showcased on masterworks such as his debut solo album, Endtroducing..., has lasted him a long time in the music business. And he expects it to last as long as the phone keeps ringing.

“When my time comes, I can be like, okay, I’m going to hang it up and I’m really proud of what I’ve done," says DJ Shadow. "I don’t ever feel like I did anything for the wrong reasons.”

DJ Shadow performs Sunday, July 23 at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $25 to $30.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.