During the late 90’s a strange thing was happening in Hip Hop music. Subject matter was shifting away from socially-conscious and community minded lyrics to more self-aggrandizing “Gangsta” style writing. On the fringes of the genre however, some of the most interesting experimentation in it’s brief history was happening unbeknownst to much of the general public. In 1996, DJ Shadow released his groundbreaking debut LP, “Endtroducing…”, the first full-length to be created from entirely sampled material according to Guinness World Records. Around the same time, another West Coast DJ, Cut Chemist, was producing Instrumental Hip Hop 7″s in addition to his work with Jurassic 5. In 1999, the two joined forces for a dual-headlining tour in support of their instrumental work. During the rehearsals for this tour, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist cut a live to tape LP entitled “Brainfreeze”.
The mix combines the styles of each DJ, with funk-flavored grooves out of Cut Chemist’s wheelhouse and vocal samples so obscure they can barely be attributed, brought to the table by DJ Shadow. The opening section of the tape is based around audio from a trailer for a kung-fu film produced by the defunct Cannon Group entitled Thunder Kick, which never even had a theatrical release. This vocal is laid over a funky re-imagining of the opening them from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddysey, a dramatic opening for an inspiring piece of underappreciated post-modernism.
The rest of the mix combines various genres (primarily funk) with aspects of 1990s Turntablism and the hybrid genre Trip Hop (a combination of electronic music and hip hop). It’s 52 minute run-time (with a break halfway through only for the benefit side change of a vinyl record) seems intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the genre or mix-tapes as a musical format. However, it’s an enthralling listen that flies by and leaves you wanting more of its bizarre aesthetic.
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist would go on to produce two more collaborative mix-tapes (2001’s “Product Placement” and 2007’s “The Hard Sell”) all of which were only distributed at live shows and are thus out of print (though they’re fairly easy to find on YouTube and fan forums). However, “Brainfreeze” being the original is perhaps the most significant in that it was the first tape produced in this live format by these two skillful DJs simultaneously cueing tracks on multiple turntables and samplers and then playing them off of one another to create a smooth cohesive hour-long mix.