DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Bring Afrika Bambaataa's Record Collection to Denver

While the current connotation of the term DJ involves neon-clad teens, lasers and confetti cannons, artists like DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist rely on the hip-hop tradition of the genre. On past tours, Shadow and Cut toured with only a collection of hand-picked 45s (the Hard Sell Tour, from 2007 to 2009), and this time around, the DJs are touring with Afrika Bambaataa's personal collection of records.

The duo is currently midway through that Renegades of Rhythm tour, and we spoke with each of them about Bambaataa's influence, the task of building a 90-minute set from thousands of hours of music and what advice they got from Bamabaataa himself on how to chronicle his influence.

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Both DJ Shadow, born Josh Davis, and Cut Chemist, born Lucas MacFadden, have long been icons in the DJ community. Both artists have been part of some of hip-hop's greatest modern moments. MacFadden is just coming off the anniversary tour for Jurassic 5, while Davis is nearing the twenty-year celebration for his debut album Endtroducing.

When the two artists were approached with the idea of touring with Bambaataa's records, it was a no-brainer for them. "It was crazy going through all of Bambaataa's records...we basically narrowed down 800 albums from 40,000, then cut it down to about 200 from there," says MacFadden.

The idea, at least in MacFadden and Davis' eyes, was to chronicle Bambaataa's influence on music from his early days of spinning records. What he did for early hip-hop not only influenced the music of today, but also transcended cultural barriers.

"We really wanted to reflect his classic music style, like, 'Planet Rock,' but also his taste as a DJ in the way that he was reflecting the Bronx itself," says Davis. "That's why there was salsa in the collection with the Puerto Rican community being in such flux at that time."

MacFadden and Davis wanted this set to reflect the era of Bambaataa's music. Both artists spoke about how quickly Bambaataa grew out of the mainstream of hip-hop as he started mixing and incorporating artists like Kraftwerk into his sets.

"There isn't very many rap records post 1988 in his collection, and the ones he did have in his collection were handed to him from people who thought he should have it, and some were never used," Davis says. "As hip-hop was making a splash on the mainstream from '88 and on, for Bambaataa in the '90s you were more likely to find drum and bass records, house records, and techno records. That was interesting and inspiring in the sense that he was constantly exploring and always looking for the new thing."

Bambaataa was once again ahead of the curve: You'd be hard pressed to find a modern hip-hop artist who is not collaborating with electronic artists today.

"Planet Rock" was named the 240th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone. Many artists credit it, and that moment in time, as being the conception of many sub-genres of electronic music. And now that the influence has crept its way into modern hip-hop and dance music.

"It was interesting to see how quickly Bambaataa tailed off from hip-hop," says Davis.

For this tour, Davis and MacFadden were given full reign on Bambaataa's collection. Neither artist knows him personally, but they wanted to make sure they represented him well.

"I met him once in the late '90s at an airport," Davis says. "But I really wanted to speak to him and get it firsthand that he was cool with what we were doing. When I talked to him, he said to make sure not to forget the go-go."

Over the course of the 90-minutes to play a set, you will hear the most prominent points of Bambaataa's career. Shadow and Cut managed to create a set that, with help from their own technical filters, paints the landscape that Bambaataa was defining.

"I think our eraser and pencil work -- we did a good job editing and cutting the chaff -- each move is progression, and trying to represent what mattered to Bambaataa," says Davis. "We focus on what he played a lot, which you can see on the records with crate and how marked up they were."

See DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist on the Renegades of Rhythm tour at the Ogden Theatre Friday, September 26 at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $32.50. A second Colorado stop is scheduled for Saturday, September 27 at Belly Up Aspen with tickets starting at $35.

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Britt Chester is a writer and video producer living in Denver, Colorado. He's covered breaking news, music, arts and cannabis for Westword since 2010. His work has appeared in GQ Magazine, Village Voice, YES! Weekly, Inman News and the Winston-Salem Journal. He likes running, cycling, and interviewing people.
Contact: Britt Chester