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On the road with DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist

Pioneers hit the stage with Afrika Bambaataa's trail-blazing records

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Vinyl Archaeology is the art of digging in crates of old records to find the perfect song, sample, break or loop — the one that another DJ or producer has yet to uncover and add to their repertoire. Years ago, one of the greatest in the field, Cut Chemist, visited Charlotte and I had the honor of accompanying him on an expedition to the Wax Museum on Monroe Road. There, he searched each section with the rapid precision of a surgeon performing a routine appendectomy — finding and extracting exactly what he'd come for, amid the chaos of thousands of album jackets.

This week, he returns to the Queen City on tour with another of the world's premier collectors, DJ Shadow. However, they won't be performing with records from their own extensive collections. They'll be using a selection pulled from the holy grail of record collections — Afrika Bambaataa's.

If Shadow and Cut Chemist are the Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan of turntables, then Afrika Bambaataa is Galileo. He's the one who first showed the world all the infinite musical possibilities it contained and what that would mean to hip-hop — the culture that was born in his South Bronx neighborhood with some of the records that will be heard at Thursday night's show, that Bambaataa took on its first world tour and made into a global force to be reckoned with.

As DJ Shadow said in a statement, "They're HIS records, with his blessings. This isn't just ANY copy of 'X' breakbeat, it's THE copy, THE copy that started everything. Not just any records, the MASTER OF RECORDS' records."

Bambaataa's collection is estimated to be over 44,000 records strong, and is currently being archived by Cornell University. It includes not only rap and soul, but soca, calypso, dub, salsa. "It's obvious that this music was important to him," Shadow said, "and it's reflected in his own music. For example, when the Soulsonic Force is singing an African chant, it actually comes from a Manu Dibango record. That's when being a crate-digger comes in handy — you have to be able to pick up on the references and reiterate them."

It's a task that shouldn't be too difficult for this DJ duo, given that they're both famous beat innovators in their own rights.

DJ Shadow holds the Guinness World Record for "First Completely Sampled Album," for his 1996 full-length debut, Endtroducing... which was named one of the 100 best albums of all time by Time and one of the 100 best debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone. (If you've never heard it, I assure you it lives up to the hype.) He was instrumental in creating the genre-defying experimental hip-hop sound that also merged funk, rock, ambient, jazz and soul, which a writer for MixMag first coined "trip hop" while reviewing his track "In/Flux."

Cut Chemist is an alumnus of South Central L.A.'s legendary Good Life open mic nights, where he co-founded the group Jurassic 5 and the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk group, Ozomatli. While on tour with Shakira in 2007, he introduced a cut 'n' scratch audio-visual presentation, a brand-new element to DJing.

This isn't the first time Shadow and Chemist have teamed up for a tour, but this is the one of most historic proportions. Just don't expect the music to sound too much like the past. Like I said, these guys are innovators.

"An 'old school' set to me usually entails the idea that there will be no new ideas or concepts happening, but just a "Hey, remember this one?' type of party," Cut Chemist said in a recent Rolling Stone interview. "That's never been how Shadow and I roll. We're looking forward to seeing how we can flip certain now-famous songs and breaks into a new context while staying true to Bambaataa's legacy and taste for that music."

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