Turntablism is the physical part of DJing, the act of slipping records on spindles and manipulating them in whatever configuration inspiration dictates. Some solo turntablists liken themselves to jugglers, which means their craft only has meaning in a live context. DJ Shadow is one of the ablest turntablists around, even if he rarely scratches, and has made a more lasting impression on the hip-hop scene with recordings. Shadow’s only true, integrated album, “Endtroducing,” released in 1996, is not only the best DJ album ever made, but also one of the seminal musical works of the ’90s, equal to “Nevermind” and “Life After Death” in terms of defining its particular musical movement.
The fact that Shadow can re-create the elusive, shape-shifting music on “Endtroducing,” which is completely made up of old recordings, in a live setting demonstrates that his turntablist skills are oriented more toward content than form. Having grown up in a white, working-class environment, where hip-hop was something you heard on the radio or the stereo rather than in a club or at a party, he learned his skills in a virtual vacuum — and didn’t really get to test them out on human beings until he went to college, where he met hip-hoppers who knew the game from the inside. His development as a DJ progressed in the opposite direction.
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