Before I smoked weed, I assumed marijuana was an intoxicant. Experience quickly corrected my assumption, revealing weed's role as a creative tool. Instead of inebriating me, smoking sparked my imagination and allowed me to interpret my senses in a different way. Things that were less interesting become more interesting, and things that were already interesting become totally awesome. For this reason, it is probably not a coincidence that most of my favorite albums are ones I discovered after I started blazing.
Both my experimentation with cannabis and my interest in abstract music arose when my older brother, Bhai, went to college. Periodically, Bhai returned home with food for both habits: far superior bud and stacks of tapes and CDs he had accumulated at school. As he lifted each album out of a shoebox, he described it with a sentence-length review. During one of these crash courses, he took extra time to emphasize Aphex Twin's magic. After several unsuccessful attempts to put Richard D. James Album into words, he said, “Y’know what? When you get a chance, just smoke a fatty, close your eyes, and listen to the whole thing on headphones.”
A few days later, I took his advice. Late on a school night, I slipped out onto the balcony, got insanely stoned off a joint containing a miniscule amount of Bhai’s weed, and listened to Richard D. James Album from beginning to end. I followed the words by the letter and kept my eyes closed the whole time, opening them only to marvel at what was happening inside my head. Within the complex array of analog sounds that comprised each song, I felt like I was finding patterns meant to remain obscure. I was in the throes of glee when my mom came out and broke the spell, pulling off my headphones and sternly informing me it was bedtime. Back in my room, I started pulling out old albums in hopes of using weed to shine new light on them. To my dismay, I couldn’t find any additional depth in Cypress Hill or 311's records. The only album that had layers was Radiohead’s OK Computer, which is still one of my favorite albums of all time. The next day, I called Bhai and hounded him for more weird music, and the next time he visited, he came equipped with more records.
Having influenced my musical taste for my entire life, Bhai knew which albums would spin my little mind into bliss. The new batch included Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children, Amon Tobin’s Bricolage, and a sampler tape lacking an insert. Over the next week, I snuck onto the balcony every night to have aural epiphanies, which my mom eventually interrupted. The night I got to the sampler tape, I welcomed my mom's intrusion because I wanted to share my wonder with someone. After she informed me that it was now 1 AM, I said, “Ma. I just heard the greatest thing I have ever heard. It’s by some guy called DJ Shadow.” She absorbed this and then said it was now 1:02. I returned inside, rewound the tape, and listened to it again. I soon got my hands on a copy of DJ Shadow's debut album, Endtroducing....., and intensely listened to it, my eyes wide open the whole time because I had never imagined that wordless music could speak so fluently to my soul. I have since learned that many people feel like DJ Shadow’s first album is the soundtrack to their lives—there isn’t a moment that can’t be scored by some portion of it. Every time I burned a fatty and listened to it, my mundane suburban surroundings were suddenly filled with color and mystery. Few of my school friends could understand how these dusty compositions could bring me such joy. Although those friendships have since faded, I still listen to Endtroducing..... every couple of weeks to recalibrate my mind.
In comparison to the other electronic records that struck a cord with me, Endtroducing..... is organic fare. The Guinness World Records lists it as the first album to be composed entirely of samples, and I always suspected the album is special, because it’s a mixture of obscure cuts from all eras of recorded music. All of that creativity lived and died and then found a common channel through this one artist at this one particular point in time. Endtroducing..... is proof that there's some sort of binding element across all music. If that thought doesn’t illustrate my obsession with this record, then my next study of it should.
By college, I had listened to Endtroducing..... about a thousand times, with the added benefit of progressively improving my joint-rolling skills. Interested in the album's composition, I began researching DJ Shadow's samples. Considering how rudimentary the internet was back then, I am amazed I was able to compile as many of the original tracks as I did—I sure as hell could have used this handy comprehensive list on Wikipedia, but I made do with what I had. Listening to all the songs together on one playlist, I imagined hearing those perfect moments as DJ Shadow must have heard them. Only half aware of what I was doing, I started tinkering with each song, chopping them up, and then finding new loops. This soon became a full-fledged stoner project—to make an entirely new album using the same songs DJ Shadow sampled on Endtroducing.....
Right as my project picked up momentum, my hard drive crashed—I lost everything I had created. Like any crash, it completely took the wind out of my sails. I soon forgot about the remix endeavor, along with some other projects. Recently, I was digging through an old hard drive. Among some old beats, I found a handful of preliminary tracks from the Endtroducing..... remixes. My brain pretty much exploded. Needless to say, I have smoked while listening to these cuts many times since rediscovering them. They’re not quite songs. Some of them are simply loops that could have become songs with a bit more labor. Who knows? With a little time and a lot of weed, I might finally finish this project.
Check out my interview with DJ Shadow for the Creator's Project.