DJ Shadow is a hip hop legend. Mostly known for being a DJ and record producer, he is also a highly renowned live beat programmer and turntablist. Born and raised in San Jose, a city that sits just outside the San Franciso Bay of Northern California, DJ Shadow was unlike any of the East Coast as he was an experimentalist when sampling and producing records.
Rising to prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shadow (real name Joshua Davis) began DJing while at university for their student radio station. While at university as a DJ, Shadow also purchased a four-track recorder to explore producing music as well as playing.
While DJing for KDVS in the early ’90s, Davis became more and more obsessed with hip hop and, wanting to explore beyond the artists and labels he already knew, Davis began picking up more obscure records and in the process, started to fall in love with instrumental hip hop from the UK after randomly grabbing a Mo’ Wax record label release.
Mo’ Wax was a label dedicated to releasing hip hop in its alternative forms and was integral to the development of trip hop, turntablism and experimental hip hop in the UK. Aside from DJs and record labels in Houston releasing and pushing chopped and screwed hip hop, with regards to experimentalism, not a lot was happening in the early 1990s.
Continuing to pursue music production and DJing after university in 1996 Shadow released his album, Entroducing. Having been influenced by Mo’ Wax, trip-hop and the way UK musicians were incorporating non-funk samples into hip hop, Davis had started looking to Europe for more obscure samples to use in his productions, and while doing so, the DJ ran across Kraftwerk.
A shiny German four-piece, Kraftwerk were the pinnacle of pop and the antithesis of hip hop in every way. Kraftwerk were at the forefront of electronic music in Europe, and one track of theirs in particular really stood out to Davis and stood out so much that he felt compelled to sample it. This track was ‘Numbers’.
Released in 1981, ‘Numbers’ was the fourth single for the German band’s eighth studio album, Computer. ‘Numbers’ was extremely popular in Europe and began to take hold in the US as the electro-hip hop sound began to grow. ‘Numbers’, with its bizarre glitchy synthesizer and vocoders, was oddly seminal as electro began to take hold of America’s eastern seaboard. ‘Numbers’ grew in popularity through airplay on New York’s hottest underground radio station WBLS,
Even Afrika Bambaataa tried to emulate the sound of ‘Numbers’. Kraftwerk never expected to have a place in hip hop history, but they do. Furthermore, they never expected to have credits on DJ Shadow’s debut album, but they do as Shadow sampled it for his 1995 track ‘What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4)’. You can listen to the original sample and DJ Shadow’s track below.