By Brad Lopez
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On the present tour, Shadow will meld his sound and vision with the latest tool in his arsenal, the world's first DVD turntable. And in another first, the tour will feature all of the members of the Quannum collective, something that fans have longed for since the crew -- Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel from Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker from Latyrx, DJ Zen and Shadow -- was known as Soleside. Shadow is quick to point out that there is no "I" in this team, which has been holding it down since forming on the University of California at Davis campus in the early '90s.
"A lot of the promoters would like to bill it as my show; but that is not the case," Shadow says. "When we do Quannum tours, we do Quannum material; I'm part of that. It's Blackalicious, Latyrx and myself all performing. I'm performing my productions from Quannum, and depending on who is rapping, they're rapping."
Although Shadow has experienced critical and commercial success with his affiliation with Mo' Wax and MCA Records, it is Quannum that serves as the heart and soul of his musical energies. "It's a label that all of us use when we need it," he says. "It's always going to be there as an outlet for us musically." Recent critically acclaimed releases by Lyrics Born (Later that Day...) and Gift of Gab (4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up) demonstrate that the collective remains a vibrant force in progressive hip-hop.
Chief Xcel perhaps described it best in 1998, when he said, "Quannum is about various energies coming together to form something very powerful."
The current tour is a gift to fans. The camaraderie of the artists, which comes alive on stage, is a culmination of years spent together studying and preaching the gospel of hip-hop. "I can understand when people refer to hip-hop as a religion, because it's simply a way of looking at the world," testifies Shadow on the profound influence hip-hop culture has had on the crew. "Hip-hop has taught me numerous things about the culture around us. It has taught me about American history. And it really has shaped the way I look at the world."
Instead of constantly complaining about the state of hip-hop, Quannum has worked hard to improve the culture that has sustained its members. The project's success shows that you can persevere, maintain integrity and build a rewarding career in a genre that too often discards old acts to make way for the new.
"We really wanted to remind people what we've accomplished," Shadow points out. "We're an independent label that's been operating for twelve years, which is like an eternity in hip-hop."
After this tour, Shadow plans to begin working on a new album, a project that he says will in some ways deviate from his usual approach to making music. "I don't consider sampling to be the be-all and end-all of what I have to offer," he says. "And that might be demonstrated a bit stronger on my next record. Having done two albums entirely sample-based, I would be surprised if the third one continues in that direction. I think I've been exposed to a lot of different types of music since making Private Press and Endtroducing..., and I'm sure it will be reflective on my next record.
"Part of my modus operandi," he adds, "is to stay away from what other people are doing."
And they'll continue walking in his shadow.