GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: In 1996, this album revolutionized hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hold up, before we get started...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Guess who's coming? Guess who's coming?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Guess who's coming?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...it's...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Guess who's coming?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: DJ Shadow.

RAZ: All of the sounds you're hearing right now - all of them - are samples. The sounds were cobbled together mainly from old vinyl records. As a matter of fact, almost every note on the entire album was produced that way. The man behind it is Josh Davis, better known as DJ Shadow.

DJ SHADOW: I call it a collage. I think that's the best way to explain it to people. It's taking little pieces from here, adding it to little pieces from there. You know, literally down to not just the drums from one record but the snare from one record, the kick from another record and making something totally new out of it.

RAZ: The result of his work was the groundbreaking album "Endtroducing."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: It's been more than 15 years since "Endtroducing" was released, and DJ Shadow is enjoying this sort of milestone usually reserved for artists like John Coltrane or The Beatles. His combined work is being released as a box set. It's called "Reconstructing." Josh Davis grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento and San Francisco where he idolized the early heroes of hip-hop. And when he began as a DJ, he wanted to bring the art of sampling out from under the shadows.

SHADOW: I think initially in the late '80s when the technology was made available, the instant reaction to it by the old guard at that time was, well, this is just out and out fast. But I think what "Endtroducing" did for a lot of people was kind of close the book on that discussion and say, OK, this is legitimate. This is a legitimate new way of making music.

RAZ: The second track on the record, it was called "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt." Can we sort of listen through that and can you tell us what all those bits are? So, it begins like this:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUILDING STEAM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT")

GEORGE MARSH: Producing...

SHADOW: OK. Well, it's a piano from a record by a guy named Jeremy Storch. And, again, one of the knocks on sampling is that, well, you just take famous songs that everybody knows and replay, you know, the chorus over and over. Well, obviously, in this case, I was taking a rather obscure artist. Part of the aesthetic is taking great moments from basically forgotten music history and reapplying it with a new context.

RAZ: Then you've got the spoken word over that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUILDING STEAM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT")

MARSH: I'd like to just continue to be able to express myself as best as I can...

SHADOW: That's the gentleman named George Marsh, a drummer from the Bay Area. And there was an instructional record about music, and he was interviewing some of his favorite drummers from, I think, about '74.

RAZ: And then you've got that...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: ...that sound. This sound: (hums).

SHADOW: Yeah. I'm struggling at the moment off the top of my head to remember where that came from. It might actually come from the Jeremy Storch record, but I'm not 100 percent sure.

RAZ: And then that percussion.

SHADOW: The percussion is from a high school record. In the '60s and '70s primarily, you know, any local high school or college would, in addition to having a yearbook, the school would pay to press 500 copies of the school band and what they were up to. That's where the drums come from.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUILDING STEAM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT")

RAZ: Where would you find these records? You just picked them up at a record store. They were, you know, maybe 50 cents or 75 cents and just buy them and just on a whim and see if they work?

SHADOW: Sure. Sure, in some cases. But in other cases, I mean, you start to develop kind of a sense of things that are going to make it, you know, increase the odds of having something fruitful within the grooves. You start looking for certain labels. You start looking for certain producers. I mean, one of the first things that I realized is that anything prior to 1966 probably wasn't going to have what I was looking for because once James Brown invented funk, then music began to settle into kind of a four-four groove, which is what hip-hop is based on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUILDING STEAM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT")

RAZ: I'm speaking with Josh Davis. He's better known as DJ Shadow. The new retrospective of his career is called "Reconstructed." Tell me about how you got into this. I mean, you grew up in California, relatively small town. You are white, and this has been predominantly an African-American musical genre. Presumably, hip-hop was what you listened to as a kid growing up.

SHADOW: I grew up in a household that tended to reject the mainstream. And my listening habits were primarily R&B. I mean, I was able to tune into an R&B station from San Francisco on my AM little portable radio. So I was listening to, you know, Lakeside and the Gap Band and Kool & the Gang and Evelyn Champagne King. I mean, a lot of post-disco, so basically '80 to '82 or so. And then they played "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And it was just one of those moments.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")

GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE: (Singing) It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under...

SHADOW: You know, if you're a punk kid and the first time you heard Minor Threat or Bad Brains, I mean, you know, through any kind of underground musical genre, everybody has these moments. It was just one of those moments in my life where I felt as though at 10 years old, I was hearing music for the first time. And I was hearing something that wasn't my parents' and it wasn't anybody's, it didn't feel like, because nobody had really--it was undefined at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")

FIVE: (Singing) Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge...

SHADOW: This was an East Coast phenomenon, primarily a New York City phenomenon. Growing up in a small town, you had to just grab these little glimpses where you could. And what it did for me was it became kind of an obsession about, you know, this culture that wasn't all around me. It was something that was, you know, seemed so distant, and it seemed so obviously vital yet so out of reach.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: "Endtroducing" - and I know people have said this to you many times - you know, it was such an important record for me when I first heard it 16 years ago. I never heard anything like it. And it occurred to me when I was preparing for this interview that I had never seen a photograph of you. I mean, you're--there are not many glamour shots, just photo after photo of you. And it occurred to me that you're kind of an Oz figure. I mean, you are really your name, like a shadow hidden behind a turntable. Are you reluctant to be the star?

SHADOW: I just think it interferes a lot of times with just being able to communicate the music. For me, the music is the message. And also growing up, the DJ tended to be relegated to the background, and I was kind of OK with that. Famously, you know, Run DMC, Jam Master Jay was always in shadow.

RAZ: Is that why you became Shadow?

SHADOW: Yeah. That's really what the name comes from, actually. I mean, it was--there was a moment where famous hip-hop producers in the '80s such as Marley Marl and another guy named Herbie Luv Bug were getting deals where they were doing their own albums, and they were on the front covers. And I remember thinking, hmm, I'm not so sure I agree with the way this is progressing. I'm comfortable in a studio environment. I don't want to be out there having to worry about fashion and stuff like that. You know, that sounds really kind of ridiculous even as I'm saying it. I mean, that's just not what I'm into. It's not where my head's at.

RAZ: Josh, recently, somebody wrote that your first record, "Endtroducing" - this is a quote - "altered the landscape of hip-hop forever." I mean, you know this that critics have called you one of the most influential figures in hip-hop. Is that strange when you hear that?

SHADOW: I mean, I'm not so sure I agree 100 percent with that sentiment anyway. I mean, I'm not so sure it changed hip-hop so much as it did introduce a lot of previously hip-hop-wary listeners to a new universe. You know, some people called it trip-hop, some people just sort of fit it into electronica. I mean, I definitely, you know, growing up on hip-hop, I've always tried to do work that would provide an alternative because I think that's how things change and evolve. Yeah, I am trying to change music. I don't know that I'm trying to change hip-hop necessarily though.

RAZ: Josh Davis is the music producer better known as DJ Shadow. He has released a retrospective of his career in two different forms. One is a single album and two as a massive box set. Both are called "Reconstructed." Josh Davis, DJ Shadow, thank you so much.

SHADOW: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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