Fifteen years after his debut record, Endtroducing, reformulated the sonic contours of hip-hop and pop, DJ Shadow has returned to let you know that The Less You Know, the Better.
“It’s very difficult for any artist to talk about any of this stuff on the record, because no one wants to get painted with the Metallica brush,” San Francisco-based Josh Davis, known to turntable geeks as DJ Shadow, told Wired.com by phone ahead of The Less You Know, the Better’s Oct. 4 release. “As a musician that has been involved in one of the industries decimated by the internet, I’ve experienced a weird duality: The internet was supposed to democratize communication, but the opposite seems to have happened.”
It’s a democracy failure Davis saw crushed up close, given his proximity to Silicon Valley, where titans like Apple and Google sprouted from technological culture jammers into the undisputed masters of Wall Street’s universe. Davis helped launch independent label Solesides in the fertile and imaginative San Francisco Bay Area with hip-hop historian Jeff Chang and members of standouts like Blackalicious and Latyrx. Then he quickly broke into the mainstream on the strength of the record-breaking Endtroducing and its stunning 2002 follow-up, The Private Press.
Since then, the internet’s meteoric rise has shadowed, so to speak, his own, even as it steadily downsized the music industry’s earnings reports and artist-development efforts. While other hip-hop crossovers have come and gone like so much disposable pop product, DJ Shadow — who kicks off a U.S. leg of his international tour Oct. 21 in his hometown San Francisco — has remained relevant. He’s stronger than ever, judging by The Less You Know, the Better’s expansive stylistic reach, which outdistances his defiant 2006 release, The Outsider, by miles.
“The Outsider was a shove,” he said. “The Less You Know, the Better is an embrace.”
It’s also an appeal, given the album’s title and its satirical cover art by San Francisco artist Tony Papesh, which features laptops and smartphones snarkily dismissing their master’s work.
“I can happily say that I have lived the dream of getting paid to publicly insult my boss,” Papesh told Wired.com in an e-mail interview readable in the sidebar below.
The smart-ass gadgets’ emotional detachment, as well as the internet age’s intensified polarization, signify what DJ Shadow calls a disturbing trend of technocultural “groupthink.”
Wired.com gets deep with Davis on the rise and fall of the internet’s innocence and the music industry’s dominance in the interview below. We also break down The Less You Know, The Better’s sprawling musical concerns, from the heady psychedelia of “Circular Logic” and “Enemy Lines” to the mightily mashed metal of “I Gotta Rokk” and the golden-age hip-hop of “Stay the Course,” which features Talib Kweli and De La Soul’s Posdnous, who DJ Shadow calls “the most underrated emcee of all time.”