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'Private' Guy

Who knows what beats lurk in the heads of men? DJ Shadow knows. The hip-hop superhero enlightens us on his latest luminous album.

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DJ Shadow’s astonishing 1996 debut, Endtroducing, was aptly named: The sample-packed set of soulful instrumental hip-hop was both the beginning and end of his LP discography. Sure, he kept busy for the next few years—a 1998 collaboration with James Lavelle as U.N.K.L.E., a partly recycled 2000 soundtrack for the homeless-people-in-the-subways documentary Dark Days, a comp of early singles—but a full follow-up never appeared. Until now, that is. With The Private Press, Shadow (a.k.a. 29-year-old Davis, Calif., native Josh Davis) is back. Can his Press live up to his press? After all…

L2T: This year, U.K. mag Muzik named Endtroducing the best dance album ever. It’s a great album, but…the best ever?

DJ Shadow I take it as a compliment, but I know how it works; they could come out with an issue next year that rates it as the worst. I was kind of baffled by it. I mean, compared to something like Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall…come on.

— Phluph? Colonel Bagshot? Soft Touch? I’ve never heard of any of the artists you sampled on the new album. Where do you find this stuff?

Colonel Bagshot was a pop-psych group from England in the late ’60s. I found it at the same store where I’ve found almost everything I’ve ever used. It cost about $10.

Yeah. It was called Records, in Sacramento. They had a massive basement, and I’m one of the few people they let down there.

— If I stumbled onto a Soft Touch album at a yard sale, would I go, ”Oh, that’s where he got that from,” or would it be unrecognizable?

In that case, it would be ”That’s where he got it from.” The samples I clear, I clear because they’re recognizable. If there are 50 samples on a song, I’m only clearing the big one. I could bore you with arguments about sample clearances….

Lawyers make it impossible to clear more than one or two samples per song, because everybody wants 50 percent, and you can only split 100 percent in half once.

— Do you ever get the urge to grab a guitar and write three-chord rock songs?

It sure would be simpler. Not really. Sometimes I have dreams of getting two MCs together to have a freestyle with my scratching over the top.

Probably pretty nasal, because my normal voice is nasal. But singing is not something that really appeals to me.

I’ve written little lyrics. I’ve listened to rap now for 20 years, so sometimes I think of things I’d like to hear on a record. But I haven’t done it in about 10 years.

Okay, here’s a line I was really proud of at the time. You remember ”Check the Rhime,” by A Tribe Called Quest, where they say ”Industry rule No. 4080…”

Sure. It was when a lot of artists were getting [in trouble] for not clearing samples. So I wrote this lyric: ”Industry rule 4081/A lawyer with a sample is a fully loaded gun.” It went on from there. I still feel like it’s pretty pertinent.

— What if you’d been born 20 years earlier, before samplers? I can imagine you being a drummer.

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