I'm sure you're probably thinking ,'Yeah, something's changed with him'," says Josh "DJ Shadow" Davis as he tries to explain a little of the life-changing journey he's been on since his last LP, 'The Private Press,' was released in 2002. That the change has been dramatic is evident on even the briefest of exposures to 'The Outsider,' his fabulous, fascinating, fire-breathing third album: but it's also there in the way he speaks, the way he looks, and the iron-clad confidence he now brings to his work.
Since he took his enviable talent and magpie ear for musical jewels overground with the release of the acclaimed debut album 'Endtroducing...' in 1996, Shadow has probably spent more time than he cares to admit being what other people want him to be. In cahoots with his first patron and early mentor, Mo' Wax label boss and fellow DJ James Lavelle, he made the lion's share of the music on the 1998 U.N.K.L.E. album, 'Psyence Fiction.' By the time he released 'The Private Press,' he had taken his chosen musical metier - emotive instrumental music, created entirely from samples - as far as it could go. From the haunting "Giving Up The Ghost" to "Monosyllabik's" obsessive methodology (the entire track was created by stretching, treating and manipulating samples from one funk single, in a process akin to aural stop-frame animation), it was the ultimate Shadow LP.
Though all these endeavours, though, Shadow remained the starry-eyed rap fan who'd been introduced to hip hop as a teen by the college radio station in the Californian town he grew up in and with which he shares a surname. On the sleeve of 'Endtroducing...,' he explained the record as being the product of "a lifetime of vinyl culture", and 'The Private Press' might as well have carried the same epithet. Yet they have only been able to tell half of the story: and 'The Outsider' - a record titled because that's how Davis sees himself, in relation to the music business, to the hardcore rap he has always loved but which his fans erroneously presume he sets himself above - is about filling in some blanks.
Two things happened to change Shadow and his music. The first was the discovery that, when his wife found she was expecting twins in 2003, her pregnancy turned out to be monoamniotic. This rare condition - "you're four times more likely to be struck by lightning," he says - means that twins develop in the same sac in the womb. The couple now have two healthy daughters, but only after months of torment during which most medical wisdom suggested that not only the children, but the mother, were unlikely to survive.
Then, while in London working on 'The Outsider,' Shadow was being driven to his hotel after a late night recording session when his cab driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran a red light.
The minicab hit a people-carrier broadside: no-one was seriously injured, but had they arrived at the junction a split second earlier, Davis would almost certainly have been killed. "Those two things blew my mind," he says, "and I can't go back. It was like a light switch being flicked. I guess I was an eternal 23-year-old for seven years, and when it all went down I became a man. Sometimes I think it would have made me take less risks, and be more demure and thankful and calm, but it actually made me wanna take a stand on everything. After all that, I realised, not only is life too short, but it could end at any time, so I really can only do what I really want to do. That's when I went home and made "Three Freaks". And I suddenly felt very confident in the direction I wanted to go."
It's a confidence that certainly hasn't been misplaced, and those life-changing lessons have been most assuredly learned. By abandoning himself once and for all to the instincts of his inner fan, Shadow has made the record that best represents who he is and what he wants to be, and that shows, to borrow a phrase from another hip hop pioneer, both where he's from, and where he's at.