It’s been exactly 10 years since DJ Shadow (a.k.a. Josh Davis)
released the groundbreaking Endtroducing…,
practically inventing the cinematic sound of instrumental Hip Hop and
establishing himself as one of the backpacker scene’s hottest beat makers in the
process. But producing such a revolutionary record so early in your career has
its own pitfalls, and devoted fans have been waiting a decade for the bay area
turntable virtuoso to duplicate that success and live up to the promise of his
influential debut. His 2002 studio follow-up, The Private Press, proved disappointing to many, and sellout
accusations began to surface. Four years later we have The Outsider, and it’s fairly safe to say that Shadow supporters still waiting for a moody, atmospheric follow-up
to Endtroducing… will likely be
sorely disappointed.

In a twilight of a time,”
intones an ominous English narrator on the album’s intro, “there emerges a need for man to comprehend
his own bitter fate. Finally resigned to the inevitable beyond, he searches the
ages, desperate for stories of assurance, redemption and hope…but there is
one tale that has yet been told, the story of The Outsider
.” Set
against an eerie musical backdrop that makes it sound like something cut
straight from the anti-authoritarian film V
For Vendetta
, the foreboding track offers the promise of an eagerly-awaited
return to form. But as the decidedly non-spooky ’70s funk of the following
track, “This Time,” unfolds, sounding like a long-lost collabo between Curtis Mayfield and Bill Withers, it becomes clear that
this album is not about meeting anyone’s expectations, but is instead a
manifesto about following Davis’
distinctively diverse muse wherever it takes him. This time, the nameless
singer croons atop wah-wah guitar and soaring strings, “I’m gonna try it my way.”

And that’s precisely what DJ Shadow
proceeds to do over the next 15 tracks, capably skipping from one genre to the
next like an aural game of hopscotch, practically daring the listener to try to
keep up. Like hyphy-style Hip Hop? Check out emcees Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk
wildin’ out on “3 Freaks”; the percussive minimalism backing The Federation and Animaniaks on the club-banging “Turf Dancing”; and Bay Area legend E-40 on the party-starting “Dats My Part.” Prefer a bit more
sociopolitical content? Dig David Banner’s
dense, Bush-bashing verses on the Hurricane Katrina-inspired “Seein’
Thangs.” Like Shadow’s more
rock-oriented work with UNKLE? “Try The
Tiger,” his collaboration with Brit-rockers Kasabian, or the Coldplay-like
vibe vocalist Chris James lends to “Erase
You” and “You Made It.” Still waiting for a return to the accessible
underground sound with which the Solesides
clique originally made its name? Bless your ears with the blues-influenced
nuances of “Backstage Girl” (featuring Phonte
of Little Brother) and the
radio-friendly groove of Enuff
(featuring Q-Tip’s best verses in
years and a catchy hook courtesy of Lateef).

In short, the album has something for just about everyone. But, as the old
saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Though
impeccably produced throughout, Shadow’s
old fans probably won’t dig the hyphy tracks, while newcomers will likely find
his experimental tendencies a bit too eclectic to swallow. But for those
adventurous listeners who don’t mind playing a marathon game of genre
hopscotch, The Outsider proves Shadow among music’s most diverse and
consistently impressive producers.