DJ Shadow / Funky Skunk
23-01-06 Revista de Prensa
by Alex Linhardt
DJ Shadow is often heralded for turning turntablism toward spiritualism and "serious artistic legitimacy," but he's strangely alienated within the realm of contemporary hip-hop. Perhaps that's because Shadow's major albums, ...Endtroducing and The Private Press, seem more indebted to Brian Eno and Aphex Twin than DJ Polo and Eric B. Some even charge that Shadow's considered among our foremost hip-hop connoisseurs only because he veers away from the most volatile and controversial elements of 21st-century rap: a rap producer in name only, a rocker in sheep's clothing, a DJ for those who can't stand the real thing. No doubt he frequently embraces the warm nostalgia of 1970s street funk and the high-falutin' bricolage of 80s avant-garde. Perhaps it's because people still blame him for trip-hop. Perhaps it's just because he's remixed Keane. At any rate, even within the marginal world of turntable fanboys, Shadow seems to be complimented more for his unimpeachable DJ maneuvers than his actual music. How many times has he been mentioned by a rapper you admire?
It's a crying shame, really, since Shadow's endlessly inventive repertoire has always been securely founded on the flotsam of rap B-sides. (Check out the first half of Diminishing Returns.) If the movie Scratch accurately portrayed the producer, Shadow spends most of his days careening around vast vinyl catacombs of 1989 rap singles and deep-funk LPs. No wonder he chose to score Dark Days, a documentary about underground derelicts who build enormous cathedral-like residences out of piles of pop-culture refuse. An iPod claims to hold 15,000 songs; Shadow claims to hold around 90 million ("60,000 shelves")-- and how could anyone doubt him?
Funky Skunk-- a limited-edition mixtape sold in exclusive packages with Shepard Fairey's graffiti-chic shirts and accessories-- is addictive and ferocious, and might horrify anyone who's only familiar with Shadow's more serene albums. Here, the grand savior of independent rap flails around with the biggest hits of Three 6 Mafia, Silkk the Shocker, and Too $hort. Entire segments are devoted to grime, gangsta, crunk, Miami bass, and all the other micro-genres that Shadow's acolytes so fiercely oppose. There are indictments of welfare programs, juvenile courts, and geopolitical deceptions, as well as wack niggaz, axes, and old Vipers. The first chorus is worlds apart from the Steve Reich-citing Private Press: "It's going down in this bitch tonight!"
Witness Shadow's collage of militant beats and high-brow marriage analysis at the start of the mix: It equates the martial and the marital far more effectively than Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Not to say he's given up on the underdogs-- the mixtape's first 10 minutes feature about a half-dozen of the best beats I've heard this month and riffs I'm astounded other DJs hadn't yet discovered: Opiate garage meets spectral mid-70s funk; Rastafarian hustlers commandeer a melting organ and relay raps that sound like they were recorded under a moving train; cosmic electro and Velcro synths are rubbed over dusty Stax singers until their glossy vocal performances are scrambled and twisted; David Banner struggles against a torrent of ambulance sirens, broken violins, and plastic beats. It's as if Southern rap were about to split into hundreds of Wagner bars and speed-psych riffs. Funky Skunk succeeds on every possible level: lyrics, flow, beats, novelty, mix, sequence, DJ acrobatics, childish humor, and erudite irony. Even when Shadow invokes a Z-grade Lee Hazlewood clone, the lyrics are so entrancingly bizarre they make Shadow seem more cryptic than gimmicky: "She's the lady they refer to when they cut the Ace of Spades/ She's the lady that they think of when the night pulls down its shades."
If there's any complaint, it's that Skunk is both physically exhausting-- the pace never relents, even when it probably should-- and veers slightly astray toward the end as the flow becomes more fragmented. Still, it's a testament to Shadow's skills that even these deficiencies can be perceived as virtues under the right conditions. Despite the recent Shadow backlash, this mix solidifies that there are few other hip-hop producers-- in meditative ambiance or glock-wielding top 20 chaos-- who are so consistently stimulating within this increasingly diverse genre.
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