DJ Shadow Used Turntable Pitch Control To Layer Samples on “Entroducing…..”
DJ Shadow’s objective was simple when he started working on his 1996 debut Entroducing…..“I definitely set out to do an entirely 100% sample-based album,” he told Keyboard Magazine in 1997. “That was my mission.”
Armed with an Akai MPC60, Alesis ADAT, and a Technics SL-1200 turntable, Shadow kept his rig bare bones throughout the creation of his first album, often relying on his keen ear for guidance. Using ingenuity and workarounds to pluck finite fragments of sound from his record collection and rearrange them into a dizzying array of compositions, Shadow’s artistic dexterity helped him overcome his limited setup.
By the time Entroducing….. was complete, Shadow’s simple initial goal of making an entire album out of samples had resulted in a landmark work that would help shape the future of sample-based music. Though he couldn’t have imagined his first album would be a key influence during the making of Radiohead’s seminal album OK Computer just a short time later, Entroducing….. broke new ground in the sample-based genre while wowing countless critics and respected musicians in the process.
“You were getting just a completely different way of looking at music, almost this collage of mistakes that in itself makes something so right.”
Released in mid-September of 1996 and receiving almost universal acclaim in major publications like The Guardian, Playboy, and Rolling Stone, the album rode the fine line of impressing sampling enthusiasts while being accessible to those unfamiliar with the genre. In a rave review Entertainment Weekly compared Shadow’s efforts to, “a surreal film soundtrack on which jazz, classical, and jungle fragments are artfully blended with turntable tricks and dialogue snippets,” crediting him with making an album that took “hip-hop into the next dimension.”
For Shadow, taking hip-hop to the next dimension started with a key ingredient to any great rap song — finding the right drums. “I like to get the beat rough, add some rough music, and then start to tighten it up from there,” Shadow said while explaining his technique to Keyboard Magazine. “But generally with me, it always starts with a beat.”
After laying down an initial beat, Shadow had to figure out how to work around the limited sampling time of the MPC60 so that he could communicate his vision. “It was all about chopping to me,” he told Keyboard Magazine. “I never had the luxury of taking extended samples.”
As is often the case with production pioneers, Shadow relished the limitations of the equipment he had at his disposal. Part of the allure of making Entroducing….. was trying to capture beautiful, messy, and primitive early days of sampling. “When Public Enemy and others were taking these moments and amplifying the noise component rather than the musical component, you were getting just a completely different way of looking at music,” he told NPR in 2012. “Almost this collage of mistakes that in itself makes something so right. I thought that was a brilliant moment in music.”
“It was all about chopping to me. I never had the luxury of taking extended samples.”
To make his own brilliant collage of mistakes, Shadow had to get creative while working within the confines of his gear and record collection. “There are lots of overdubs on the album,” he told Keyboard Magazine. “But all the record was 100% sample or vinyl-based. All the sampling was done on the MPC. It all went straight from turntable to the MPC to tape.”
Taking his sampling a step further, Shadow also used the pitch control on his turntable to make his samples sound just right if the MPC couldn’t do the job by itself. “Any other things you hear were done straight off the turntable, pitched in,” he told Keyboard Magazine. “Like, if a song is in a certain key, and I overdub a string bit, I have to manipulate the pitch control on the turntable until it works.”
To modern producers familiar with Ableton, FL Studio, Maschine, and an endless slew of sampling technology, Shadow’s gear and methodology may seem primitive, but the final result was anything but. Sixteen years after the release of Endtroducing… The Guardian wrote, “Endtroducing…..suggested that, with a little imagination, there were few limits to the music that could be made by one man and his record collection.”
As DJ Shadow’s debut turns 21, the album remains an enduring testament to the incredible innovation often born out of constraints.