You can tell a lot about a person from their record collection. You could say it’s defining—a reflection of your moods, movements, and outlook on life.
Two people renowned for the art of record collecting are DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. Both meticulous and relentless vinyl scavengers (on top of roles as producers and DJs), Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) and Lucas MacFadden (Cut Chemist) have toured and collaborated together on many occasions, highlighting hidden gems and reimagining old favorites.
For their latest outing, the Renegades of Rhythm tour, Davis and MacFadden are working exclusively with revered DJ Afrika Bambaataa’s personal record collection. Beyond honoring the godfather of breakbeat DJing and marveling at his penchant for multiple copies of certain discs, the pair has discovered new ways to connect to Bambaataa—and their audiences—through each performance.
Here, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist share ten tracks from Bambaataa’s extensive (and museum-worthy) collection that inspired their new collaborative tour.
Having done the show for a couple months and doing the prep work, I have a different perspective than I did when we were first doing the playlist. But yet, I still think of the same records, it’s funny, which must mean those were the records for me. So let me go down the list, and these are in no order:
“Soul Wanco” by Candido
It’s a good one. First of all, it’s just really fun to cut up. You know, I do doubles of it. It’s a drum break with a consistent bongo roll over the whole beat, and it’s very Zulu sure shot, from what I always understood a Zulu sure shot to sound like. Kind of worldly, kind of African, kind of Latin with a strong break beat under it. For those two reasons, it’s a favorite that we play, and I think representative of the sound that we’re trying to get across.
“The Mexican” by Babe Ruth
I didn’t realize before the tour how much I love this song. We would play it every night after night after night after night. We were sitting with our tour openers, and we were all just kind of sitting on the bus going, “That’s such a good song.” Like, forget that it has like any historical hip-hop value. [Even] aside from that, it’s an amazing song lyrically, the musical arrangement, the way it’s recorded, the performance—it’s just 360 degrees. It’s an incredible piece of work. We play it in the break-dance section, which is dedicated to the break-dancers. It’s such a B-boy anthem. Yeah, whenever I hear that song and think about the bass and the drums, it makes me want to move.
“Renegades of Funk” by Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force
Definitely has to make the list, you know, for a bunch of reasons. One, it’s where we pulled the title to name our tour and the campaign. It’s also one of the first rap music videos I’d ever seen, which we now play in the show with the song. And it’s a nice part of the show where you can kind of see a visual representation of one of the songs. It really lands nicely.
“Last Night Changed It All (I Really Had A Ball)” by Esther Williams
A classic. Hip-hop break beat, and the way the drums sound is really unique. People respond to it. I don’t know if it’s because they know the song or if they like the uniqueness of the beat, but it’s certainly one of my favorite ones. I always anticipate when I’m about to play it, like, “Alright, I’m having fun. I’m playing this.” I never quite know how I’m going to cut it up or how I’m going to manipulate it.
“Get Up and Dance” by Freedom
It sounds like a party in a box the minute that it comes in with the kazoos and the way the drums are recorded and the crowd. People react right away and even if they don’t know the song, it’s a song that commands a reaction from an audience, so that’s a big deal.
I made a list of five, but one of them might be a little tricky ’cause it’s kind of rare, but I thought it would be cool to pick something that has kind of an interesting story.
“Message from a Black Man” by Mickey & the Soul Generation
One of the first records I play [on the tour] is a record that I was involved with putting out that was in Bambaataa’s collection. I think it was in 2002. I reissued a bunch of their music with their approval. Bambaataa bought it and it was in his collection. So we play [the Soul Generation’s] version of “Message from a Black Man” near the beginning of the set because we feel like it’s a good symbolic first note to strike.
“Gangster Boogie” by Chicago Gangsters
It’s a B-boy classic. It’s a song that I’m reasonably sure that Bambaataa kind of discovered. He pioneered playing out. What was really interesting about going through his collection was that even in the ’70s he was already called “the master of records” and it seems like he took that mantel seriously because wherever possible, when he had two copies of a record, Bambaataa would have two different types of copies for that record. So, examples would be like, we play “Sing Sing” by Gaz and one copy is an LP and one copy is the 12”. In some cases, he would have two copies of a 12” and one would be colored vinyl. In other cases… He had kind of a rare album by a group called The Eliminators on Brunswick Records, and he actually had an OG acetate of the song he played. He went through great lengths to demonstrate to other DJs who happened to be watching him play, like, “Wait a minute, I have that record but mine doesn’t look like that.”
“Even after all these years and as long as I’ve been collecting, there’s always something to be learned from the master of records.”
So, as it relates to the Chicago Gangsters, he had two different copies of their LP Blind Over You, put in the same jacket. When we pulled them out, the labels looked different. It was the same label, same group, same songs, but when we dropped the needle it was a completely different version of “Gangster Boogie.” It was an earlier take and I started texting around to people that are collectors and DJs and people that kind of geek out on stuff like that, like, “Are you familiar with this other version of ‘Gangster Boogie’? You know, like an earlier version?” and everybody was like, “Nooope.” Even after all these years and as long as I’ve been collecting, there’s always something to be learned from the master of records. We play the more famous version—the version that was on Ultimate Breaks and Beats—and that copy, that version was, like I said, in the original jacket and then there was another piece of wax stuck in the same jacket. Because that’s how he used to do it: he’d put two different copies in the same jacket and obviously only one of those copies would be indigenous to that record or to that cover. We play the more famous version because the other version that we discovered is kind of…it’s interesting, but it’s inferior. The band isn’t as together and it doesn’t hustle as much. It’s slower and it sounds like they were kind of doing the arrangement together, and I’m not surprised that they recut it.
“Catch a Groove” by Juice
Again, this one is something I really didn’t know existed and had never seen, and it’s kind of cool. There’s a thing that’s disco break called “Catch a Groove” by a group called Juice and it’s on a label called Greedy Records. What we found is this thing that says, “The Greedy in-store disco pack,” and it plays on 45 RPM and has talking in between each cut. Unfortunately, they don’t even let “Catch a Groove” play all the way through. It’s like a sixty-second commercial and at the top of the record there’s a voice kind of like going, “The sound is everywhere you go. Disco is a phenomenon in full swing” and all this stuff like that. So we actually play this record set-up to transition into disco era. The voice is just by itself, which is great for DJ use. A couple of copies have sold on Discogs and eBay, but I keep missing them. And I don’t think that most people are aware that it’s out there. It doesn’t come up very often.
“Flash It to the Beat” by Flash and The Furious 5
It’s that original old-school bootleg. One of the first rap bootlegs that came out around ’81 or ’82 on a label called Bozo Meko. And it’s a live routine of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 doing their song “Flash It to the Beat.” It was recorded in 1980 and has Grandmaster Flash playing the drum machine live. There’s a segment in the show where we were able to find the same drum machine and kind of recreate that part of the routine. It’s a really rare drum machine and we had to borrow it from a collector. We hunted high and low because either people didn’t know what we were talking about or they’d just laugh when we mentioned it. In fact, we actually had to repair it once already on this trip because it’s from 1967 and the circuitry and electronics are fragile. It’s not made for the rigors of the road and, I don’t know, it must have gotten jostled or bumped or something because, yeah, it started kind of losing its punch and its kick so we had to take it to a repair shop in Austin, Texas. This guy was really thorough, you know, knew what he was doing, and he restored it, but every night it’s a little bit different. It’s funny. It’s never the same machine twice.
And then, on the flip side of the same record, is a live recording of probably Jazzy Jay, although we’re not totally sure. It’s one of Bambaataa’s DJs. Bambaataa was often the selector and he would have other Zulu DJs actually perform the DJing and on this particular bootleg it’s stuff like “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” by James Brown and “The Champ” by the Mohawks.
“Can You Feel It?” by Original Concept
Kind of moving along into the hip-hop era, Original Concept’s “Can You Feel It?” was a Def Jam 12” from ’86 that Rick Rubin produced. It’s essentially a DJ cut over 808 beats but the DJ, Easy G, is scratching on fusion beats, which is the bootleg that I mentioned on the fourth selection. When I first heard Original Concept in ’86 coming out of a mini truck, I didn’t know that all those different scratches from those different songs were actually all conveniently on one record! It wasn’t until much later that I heard the bootleg that I was like, “Oh, OK, that all makes sense now.” I lost a teeny bit of respect for the Original Concept production but not really because it’s still just such a dope record. There’s a famous Jazzy Jeff routine where he scratches Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real” and Herman Kelly’s “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,” and I’m thinking, “Wow, he’s pulling out all these 12” really fast. How is he doing that?” Then I realized later they were all on the same side of a bootleg. There’s a few occasions in our set where, for example, we play “Trans-Europe Express” by Kraftwerk and Bambaataa had three OG copies of the Kraftwerk album and one copy of a special DJ 12” that had “Trans-Europe Express” on it, and they all skipped badly, like multiple times in the first thirty seconds. And so in order to play, it we actually play it off of a compilation that was put out in the early 2000s that was in Bambaataa’s personal collection. We felt like that was still OK. I mean, obviously we would have, you know, preferred the original release, but since it was in his collection we reasoned that he probably played that version too because all his work was beaten up. FL