In the mid-’90s, hip-hop stood at a crossroads. The mainstream had become acclimated to releases such as The Chronic, Nas’ Illmatic and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. But burbling up in the background was a new movement toward a more atmospheric, introspective hip-hop and ambient-inspired subgenre that would become known first as trip-hop, and later as downtempo. Many listeners at the time found this new aesthetic through Portishead’s classic 1994 debut, Dummy. The next year, Japanese producer and turntablist DJ Krush released his first solo album, Krush, on the Shadow Records label, and showed the world that hip-hop had the capacity to become endlessly multicultural as he helped flesh out this new artistic niche.

The 45-year-old DJ Krush – real name Hideaki Ishi – was once a low-level yakuza on the streets of Tokyo who now brings a distinctly Japanese flavor to an international genre. Hip-hop is urban, technophiliac music, and flourishes in the dense concrete environs of metropolises throughout the world, Tokyo being no exception. Japan has always brought a unique paradigm to their cultural products, and musically, Krush serves as a prime example. There is a beautiful simplicity and expansive field of sound to his compositions that leaves an impression of a samurai sitting at the edge of a forest, quietly listening to the wind rustling through trees. The crackling of the vinyl is as essential a component as the pure, clear notes from a bamboo flute. His work has a cinematic drama born of the myths of his culture, and deliberately breaks from the hip-hop popularized by his North American contemporaries. “I thought it was wrong to simply copy what they do,” he says. “I mean it’s impolite to them. That’s why I started to pursue a sound of my own.”

More than a decade after he began pursuing that unique sound, DJ Krush continues to be a presence in hip-hop, as he embarks on a new world tour and releases History of DJ Krush. The collection’s subtitle, “Suimou Tsunenimasu,” translates as “There is no end to training,” a sentiment that reflects the discipline and humility he demonstrates throughout the collection of three DVDs.

The first disc is a rerelease of a 1996 VHS documentary previously only available in Japan. Disc No. 2 covers the entirety of his career, and includes a long interview, many performances and interviews with collaborators such as DJ Shadow, Company Flow, Anticon and Aesop Rock. He’s shown in lonely warehouses, on top of skyscrapers and even as a solitary figure shielded from a crowd of thousands by his turntables, samplers and effect processors, communicating beyond language through the speakers.

Rounding out the collection, the final disc contains every music video Krush has released. Taken as a whole, it’s a thorough look at his music through the years. It’s a 90-bpm carrier wave, modulated by a multiplicity of voices from around the world.

As DJ Shadow notes on disc No. 2, “You’re making records for the world now, and it’s illogical to see it any other way as far as I’m concerned. People need to start thinking globally about hip-hop.” One day, 25 years from now, a young person will ask you to explain why hip-hop became such a profound aesthestic as the century turned. This collection will provide an apt answer.


More by Ian Monroe


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