DJ Shadow & Curated Collaboration: The strengths of Our Pathetic Age
With a career spanning two decades, DJ Shadow’s skills in production is already well-known. So, he turns his eye to collaboration instead.
One thing that’ll immediately grab your attention when diving into DJ Shadow’s latest album Our Pathetic Age - his sixth - is its sheer length. It spans 26 songs over one-and-a-half hours, split into two sections: The first eleven tracks showcase DJ Shadow in the production realm, his decades-long career in the production arm flexed once again on a career-encapsulating record; the second, meanwhile, is thick with collaboration, enlisting friends as he looks forward into what DJ Shadow’s music can look like in future years.
For some, this might be enough to deter people from diving in; the response to bloated hip-hop ‘events’ - rather than albums - evidence of this. For DJ Shadow, however, it’s an opportunity to shine a light on his past and the future path he’s paving, bringing together the two cliff-faces of his discography into one package that brings it all together. That’s not to say that there’s nothing deep at play here - “I want it to reflect the times we live in, a signpost in the ground to mark the era,” he says on the record - but on the surface, it’s an album that showcased the legendary producer’s many facets of brilliance, and how they can be executed to the highest degree.
Take the first half of the album, for instance. DJ Shadow’s skillset in production is legendary at this point - he’s behind some of hip-hop’s most iconic records, whether it be in front of the camera or behind-the-scenes - but the first half of Our Pathetic Age is an opportunity for Shadow to remind people exactly why. It’s also an opportunity to introduce a new audience to the premise of his continued success; the mid-90s legacy of DJ Shadow perhaps unknown to the next generation of hip-hop fans, welcomed into the genre through viral TikTok hits and a greater visual representation via rappers like Megan Thee Stallion and Rich Brian.
Our Pathetic Age’s first-half is a masterclass in hip-hop minimalism, especially in the production realm. Slingblade is a boom-bap epic of twinkling melodies and percussive snaps, the lack of vocal feature allowing the song’s production to twist and turn in its own right. On Intersectionality immediately after, a slow-burning crescendo of percussion and brooding synth pulses take DJ Shadow’s hip-hop edge and twist it into an almost Stranger Things-esque exploration of nostalgic rap, while on Weightless, intricate sampling produces one of the album’s most wonderous moment - a true display of the strengths of production when a vocal feature isn’t competing for its attention.
The album’s second half, meanwhile, is something bigger. It’s a showcase of DJ Shadow in the collaborator role, enlisting a list of hip-hop’s greatest - Nas, Pharoahe Monch, Ghostface Killah, De La Soul, Wiki, Run The Jewels, Dave East, Pusha T - for another 15 tracks that contrastingly to the album’s first half, welcomes a sense of overwhelming maximalism. DJ Shadow is no stranger to collaboration - his last record, 2016’s The Mountain Will Fall, saw him enlist everyone from Run The Jewels to production experimentalist G Jones - but Our Pathetic Age takes this to the next level; the exploration of DJ Shadow’s sound and its intersection with high-tier, ‘classic’ hip-hop fully realised to the highest most execution.
On Rain On Snow, Wu-Tang Clan heavyweights Ghostface Killah and Raekwon exchange verses above a spiralling production rich with record scratches and bursts of percussion, while on album highlight Kings & Queens, one of rap music’s best pairings in Run The Jewels - Killer Mike and El-P - return to a DJ Shadow production once again, caving one of the genre’s most spectacular moments in the process. The De La Soul-assisted Rocket Fuel feels like the intersection of De La Soul collaborators Gorillaz and Kanye West, as the latter’s close friend and keen collaborator Pusha T makes an emergence on one of the album’s bonus tracks Been Use Ta, begging the question of what exactly constitutes a ‘bonus track’ when they occasionally feature album-best moments.
“More than anything, I try to get a sense of the mood of society as a whole [in Our Pathetic Age],” explains DJ Shadow, going deeper on the album’s theme. “The subtle signals that humans send each other, the way people behave, their frustrations and ebbs and flows. In my part of the world, people are scared. There's rampant homelessness, and a real fear of falling into generational poverty. People are addicted to, and addled by distraction; they're angry and confused, and disaffected by their own governmental institutions. There are songs that are inspired by this energy and seek to harness it, to make sense of it. In some cases, there are attempts to salve the wound; in others, the songs merely observe but don't offer solutions. Despite the title, it’s a hopeful, vibrant album...there is always light in darkness.”
Dive into the record below:
DJ Shadow's sixth album Our Pathetic Age is out now via Mass Appeal / Caroline Australia.
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