DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at House of Blues

Hip hop. The last true American art form. From days of BBoys and graffiti, to DJs digging deep into the crates searching for that hidden gem, it’s the one musical genre where you have to come correct every time and stay relevant, otherwise your fans will blast you for cutting corners.

We were lucky enough to witness two artists, who rest right at the root of music integrity, embark on a tour to help educate and celebrate the art of hip hop. Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow traveled the country on their historic “Renegades of Rhythm” Tour, curating sets which are all compiled from the music archive of the godfather of hip hop–Afrika Bambaataa. His record collection is 40,000 deep and is so significant it lives at Cornell University. This cache of records is truly a work of art. Tattered covers, turntables and dusty pieces of vinyl from the last half century–these records have a story to tell. Who better than Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow, a couple of the best turntablists in the world, to create an autobiographical timeline of how music has grown, changed and taken shape into what we know today.

The House of Blues was packed. All shapes and sizes of people. All different walks of life. From music aficionados to the casual listener. Everyone came, far and wide, to witness greatness performed right before them. The stage was covered in art work to show the New York skyline, the birthplace of hip hop. Six turntables, and boxes and boxes of vinyl. Both Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow take the stage, rocking the “Sure Shot” t-shirts. The backdrop, a movie screen playing everything from flashes of block parties in the early 70s, to pictures and concert footage of perennial artists like James Brown… artists who passed on far before ever realizing how much their music changed the world.

DJ Shadow took to the mic, narrating the voyage through the musical sands of time. His tone was sincere. As they started each of the three sets, he would walk us through the lineage of how these records came to be. He explained how the creative lens of Afrika Bambaattaa’s vision for beats, breaks, and sounds helped push music forward, to stretch its wings and take us to places we never thought we’d reach. To know where you are going, you first have to know where you came from.

Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow would blend records seamlessly, taking us on a ride from the early undeveloped sounds of West Indian & African tribal music, to be-bop, to blues, to funk. Showing off their talents in beat juggling, scratching simple sequences and progressing to more complex chirps and transformers. Within 10 minutes, the first BBoy circle broke out (as it should have). Fans bobbing their heads, gazing at the stage speechless at performance taking place. Every few minutes, you would hear a track and say to yourself, “I’ve heard that somewhere before?” only to realize they were playing original breaks that had been sampled a hundred times over in the last 50 years. Nothing was off limits this night. Salsa. Merengue. Disco. Kraftwerk. Planet Rock. This show had something for everyone. You name it, and its in Bam’s collection and on display during Cut & Shadow’s set. 12″. 45s. An original drum machine from the 60s, which looked like it was straight out of TRON. Analog sounds. Crisp and clear.

I took inventory of the crowd, the venue, the stage, the performers. It was poetry in motion. A perfect nirvana. It was definitely a night to remember. For those who were there, a reminder that hip hop is still alive. We’re still here. We’re still breathing. We’re still relevant.

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