Endtroducing….. is the debut album by American music producer DJ Shadow, released on September 16, 1996, by Mo’ Wax. It is an instrumental hip hop work composed almost entirely of samples from vinyl records. DJ Shadow produced Endtroducing over two years using an Akai MPC60 sampler and other minimal equipment. He edited and layered samples to create new tracks of varying moods and tempos.
In the United Kingdom, where DJ Shadow had already established himself as a rising act, Endtroducing received praise from music journalists at the time of its release, and reached the top 20 of the UK Albums Chart. It was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. Mo’ Wax issued four singles from the album, including the chart hits “Midnight in a Perfect World” and “Stem”. It took considerably longer for Endtroducing to find success in the United States. After promoting the album and returning to his hometown of Davis, California, DJ Shadow devoted his time to creating new music. During this period, interest in Endtroducing began to build among the American music press, and it peaked at number 37 on the US Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.
Endtroducing was ranked highly on various lists of the best albums of 1996, and has been acclaimed by critics as one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. It is considered a landmark recording in instrumental hip hop, with DJ Shadow’s sampling techniques and arrangements leaving a lasting influence. In 2020, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Endtroducing as the 329th greatest album of all time.
As a high school student, DJ Shadow experimented with creating music from samples using a four-track recorder, inspired by sample-based music such as It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) by the hip hop group Public Enemy. He began his music career in 1989 as a disc jockey for the University of California, Davis campus radio station KDVS. His KDVS work impressed A&R representative Dave “Funken” Klein, who signed him to the Hollywood Basic label to produce music and remixes. DJ Shadow’s output for Hollywood Basic, including the 1993 single “Entropy” and his work with the SoleSides crew, brought him to the attention of English musician James Lavelle, who signed DJ Shadow to his Mo’ Wax label.
DJ Shadow’s first two singles for Mo’ Wax, “In/Flux” (1993) and “Lost and Found (S.F.L.)” (1994), utilized samples from “used-bin” vinyl records, blending elements of hip hop, funk, soul, jazz, rock, and ambient music. The singles were acclaimed by the British music press, and soon DJ Shadow and other Mo’ Wax artists came to be viewed as leading practitioners of a nascent genre that the press termed “trip hop” – a name coined by Mixmag journalist Andy Pemberton in June 1994 to describe “In/Flux” and similar tracks being played in London clubs. In the summer of 1994, DJ Shadow started producing his first album. He completed around half of the record, but Mo’ Wax opted to instead issue the finished music as a single – “What Does Your Soul Look Like” – the following year. As a result, DJ Shadow began work on his debut album anew. He was intent on capturing the same feel of his three Mo’ Wax singles, and chose the title Endtroducing….. for the album as “it signified the fourth and final chapter in a series of pieces that I was doing for Mo’ Wax with a certain sound, a certain tone, a certain atmosphere.”
DJ Shadow began production on Endtroducing in 1994 in his California apartment before moving to the Glue Factory, the San Francisco home studio of music producer and colleague Dan the Automator. DJ Shadow strove to create an entirely sample-based album. His setup was minimal, with only three main pieces of equipment: an Akai MPC60 sampler, a Technics SL-1200 turntable, and an Alesis ADAT tape recorder. The MPC60 was used for almost all composition. DJ Shadow bought the device in 1992 at the suggestion of DJ Stretch Armstrong, who recommended it as a more advanced alternative to the “industry standard” sampler at the time, the E-mu SP-1200, which DJ Shadow later noted “had been around for like four years, the sound was well established, and it had some real audio limitations in terms of the bit rate and stuff.” He finished recording Endtroducing in early 1996.
DJ Shadow sampled vinyl albums and singles accumulated from his trips to Rare Records, a record shop in his native Sacramento, where he would spend several hours each day searching for music. His routine is depicted in the 2001 documentary film Scratch. The Endtroducing album cover is a photograph taken at Rare Records by B Plus, showing producer Chief Xcel and rapper Lyrics Born (the latter wearing a wig), who like DJ Shadow were members of the SoleSides collective. ABB Records founder Beni B (wearing a baseball cap) is also seen in the full version of the photograph, which appears in the album’s liner notes.
Endtroducing samples music of various genres, including jazz, funk, and psychedelia, as well as films and interviews. DJ Shadow programmed, chopped, and layered samples to create tracks. He opted to sample more obscure selections, making it a personal rule to avoid sampling popular material. Samples of prominent artists such as Björk and Metallica are, however, present at points on the album; DJ Shadow noted that “if I use something obvious, it’s usually only to break my own rules.” Minor vocal contributions were provided by Lyrics Born and another SoleSides member, rapper Gift of Gab, as well as DJ Shadow’s then-girlfriend Lisa Haugen, whom he later married.
DJ Shadow describes his albums as “really varied”, and said of Endtroducing: “I feel like ‘Organ Donor’ sounds nothing like ‘The Number Song’ which sounds nothing like ‘Midnight’ and on and on.” He said he was often depressed during the production of the album and that his “feelings of self-doubt and self-esteem come through in the music.”
Endtroducing is opened by “Best Foot Forward”, a sound collage of record scratches and hip hop vocal samples. “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” is built around a looped piano line sampled from Jeremy Storch’s “I Feel a New Shadow”, with various other musical elements entering throughout the track, including samples of an interview with drummer George Marsh, a women’s choir, bass fills, electronically altered drum kicks, and funk guitar. “The Number Song” uses multiple drum breaks and vocal samples of count-offs. “Changeling” deviates from the previous uptempo tracks, incorporating new-age sounds and gradually building toward a “sublimely spacey” coda. It segues into the first of three “transmission” interludes placed throughout the album, each featuring a sample from the 1987 film Prince of Darkness. “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4)” layers wordless chants over a looped bass groove, creating what Paste’s Mark Richardson describes as an “uneasy” techno soundscape. Track six is an untitled interlude featuring a man reciting a monologue about a woman and her sisters over a funk backing.
The two-part “Stem/Long Stem” begins the second half of Endtroducing. John Bush of AllMusic called the track a “suite of often melancholy music, a piece that consistently refuses to be pigeonholed into any musical style.” The first half, “Stem”, sets strings against a recurring sequence of erratic drum beats, before giving way to the more ethereal “Long Stem”, followed by “Transmission 2”. “Mutual Slump” features “dreamy” female spoken vocals and prominent samples of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe”. The sparse “Organ Donor” juxtaposes an organ solo and a drum break. “Why Hip Hop Sucks in ’96” is a brief interlude featuring a repeating G-funk-esque beat, over which a voice shouts “It’s the money”. DJ Shadow composed the track to express his dissatisfaction with the state of commercial hip hop music in the mid-1990s.
“Midnight in a Perfect World” mixes a soulful vocal line with a slow drum beat. It samples the bassline from Pekka Pohjola’s “The Madness Subsides”, as well as elements of David Axelrod’s piano composition “The Human Abstract”. “Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain” progresses slowly, starting with a bassline and a drum loop, then gradually increasing in tempo as additional instrumentation enters the mix. The track eventually reaches its climax and deconstructs itself, leaving a single string sample playing by its conclusion. Endtroducing ends “on an up note” with “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit)”, which is anchored by warm saxophone and keyboard hooks. A third and final “transmission” closes the album with the spoken words “It is happening again”, sampled from the television series Twin Peaks.
Endtroducing was released by Mo’ Wax on September 16, 1996, in the United Kingdom. In the United States, it was issued by Mo’ Wax and FFRR Records on November 19, 1996. DJ Shadow promoted the album through various interviews and press appearances. The record spent three weeks on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at number 17, and was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry in 1998. It also charted at number 75 in the Netherlands. “Midnight in a Perfect World” was previously issued as the album’s first single on September 2, 1996, and it was later released to American college and modern rock radio stations in January 1997. It peaked at number 54 on the UK Singles Chart, while its music video, directed by B Plus, received much airplay on MTV’s electronic music program Amp. “Stem” was released as the album’s second single on October 28, 1996, reaching number 74 in the UK and number 14 in Ireland. “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1)” followed on January 12, 1998, charting at number 54 in the UK. A fourth and final single – a double A-side release featuring producer Cut Chemist’s remix of “The Number Song” and DJ Shadow’s remix of the synth-pop band Depeche Mode’s “Painkiller” – was issued on February 23, 1998.
Describing the time spent promoting Endtroducing as “some weird roller coaster ride”, DJ Shadow was dismayed by the lack of reaction he received upon returning to his hometown of Davis, compared to the thriving attention he had received within the British music scene. He felt he had been manipulated by the press and his record label and “went from being angry to being depressed” over the “perceived lack of control” he had over his life. DJ Shadow found himself compelled to produce new tracks such as “High Noon” as outlets for expressing his turbulent feelings at the time. Following this period, interest in his work grew in the US; newspapers ran stories on Endtroducing and DJ Shadow received several phone calls a day, enough to convince him to hire a manager. Endtroducing eventually entered the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart and peaked at number 37 on the listing in April 1997.
Endtroducing received widespread acclaim from music critics. Alternative Press praised the album as “an undeniable hip-hop masterpiece” showing “DJ Shadow remembers that sampling is an art form”, while Q described it as “a cinematically broad spectrum so deftly layered that the sampling-is-stealing argument falls flat”. David Bennun from The Guardian said the record was “not only one of the most daring and original albums of recent times, but also one of the loveliest”, and in a separate review for Melody Maker, he wrote: “I am, I confess, totally confounded by it. I hear a lot of good records, but very few impossible ones… You need this record. You are incomplete without it.” In Playboy, Robert Christgau claimed that while listeners unfamiliar with its style of music would not find the tracks as powerful, “they are so rich and eclectic, and spun out with such a sense of flow, that this album establishes the kind of convincing aural reality other British techno experimenters only fantasize about.” Author and rock critic Greil Marcus penned a glowing review of the album in Artforum, where he called it “absolutely modern – which is to say ambient-dreamy and techno-abstract” and “quite brilliant throughout”.
Entertainment Weekly critic Jon Wiederhorn likened Endtroducing to “a surreal film soundtrack on which jazz, classical, and jungle fragments are artfully blended with turntable tricks and dialogue snippets” and said that it “takes hip-hop into the next dimension.” Tony Green of JazzTimes commended DJ Shadow’s “unerring ear for motif and texture”, and Simon Williams of NME called him “both slyly knowing and brilliantly naive, fusing the dramatic and the deranged to his own sweet end.” Spin’s Sia Michel said that the album “practically folds you into its symphonic fantasia, the coming-of-age story of a 24-year-old bunk-bed dreamer.” Rolling Stone journalist Jason Fine found that while Endtroducing occasionally lapses into less interesting “moody atmospherics”, “even in the record’s mellowest moments, Shadow’s allegiance to the hard beats of hip-hop saves him.”
Endtroducing appeared in numerous publications’ lists of the best albums of 1996. The album topped year-end lists by Muzik and OOR, and placed second in Melody Maker’s. It was voted fourth place in The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll for 1996. Robert Christgau, the poll’s creator, named Endtroducing the best album of the year. The album also ranked in the top ten of year-end lists by The Face, the Los Angeles Times, Mojo, NME, and Vox.
Endtroducing frequently appears in critics’ lists of the greatest albums. Publications such as Pitchfork, Q, Rolling Stone, Slant Magazine, and Spin have placed it on their lists of best albums of the 1990s. Robert Christgau named it among his 10 favorite albums from the decade. NPR listed Endtroducing as one of the 300 most important American records of the 20th century, and Time selected the record as one of the “All-Time 100 Albums” in 2006. It was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked Endtroducing at number 329 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Guinness World Records cited the album as the first created entirely from samples. AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine called Endtroducing “not only a major breakthrough for hip-hop and electronica, but for pop music.” The album was a driving force in the development of instrumental hip hop music, inspiring numerous DJs and producers to create sample-based works. Tim Stelloh of PopMatters cited it as the “benchmark” for the genre. Will Hermes referred to Endtroducing as “trip-hop’s crowning achievement” in Spin, and Jeff Weiss of the Los Angeles Times wrote that it defined American trip hop. Music journalist Trey Zenker labeled the album as a “plunderphonics masterpiece” in an essay for Tidal, while Turk Dietrich of the American experimental music duo Belong said that it was a nearly unrivaled masterwork of sampledelia. Endtroducing inspired the British rock band Radiohead to edit and loop drums on their 1997 album OK Computer. Several artists sampled on Endtroducing, including David Axelrod and English rock band Nirvana, praised the album. DJ Shadow expressed surprise at the album’s stature: “After the record, I’d always bump into these world-class producers who’d say, ‘Yeah, Endtroducing – what a great piece of production.’ I just did it on one sampler in a tiny little studio.”
Andy Battaglia of The A.V. Club suggested that the influence of Endtroducing may have had a negative effect on the album itself, saying that it “has been partially diluted by the symphonic beat-collage culture it helped spawn.” The acclaim set high expectations for future releases by DJ Shadow, and he expressed his dissatisfaction with being expected to “repeat Endtroducing over and over again”. Nonetheless, DJ Shadow clarified that he views the album in a positive light: “People always seem to suggest that there’s this pressure, and that Endtroducing is some kind of albatross, and I’ve just honestly never felt that way. I think that I have a healthy enough respect for the lineage of the music and how rare it is that you can connect with an audience. If that will always be ‘the record’ then so be it, that’s cool.” By April 26, 2005, Endtroducing had sold more than 290,000 copies in the US alone.
A deluxe edition of Endtroducing was released on June 6, 2005. It includes a second disc titled Excessive Ephemera consisting of alternate takes, demos, B-sides, remixes, and a live track, as well as new sleeve photographs and notes discussing the making of the album. A second deluxe edition commemorating the album’s 20th anniversary, titled the Endtrospective edition, was released on October 28, 2016, featuring Excessive Ephemera, the remix album Endtroducing… Re-Emagined, and additional sleeve photographs and notes.[110