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(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Massive Attack / Jazmin Quaynor)

Music

What is trip-hop and where did it originate?

With the Beethoven of the sampler, DJ Shadow (real name Josh Davis), claiming to have “accidentally invented trip-hop” in a recent interview with The Guardian, I felt it necessary to give my two cents and set the record straight. 

Firstly, some of you were drawn here to find out what exactly “trip-hop” is. As the name suggests, it pertains to an origin in hip-hop music. Hip-hop was itself born from funk music, characterised by heavy use of sampling and later became synonymous with rap music with the likes of N.W.A. laying sharp lines over Dr. Dre’s iconic beats. 

Trip-hop is a term coined in the mid-1990s, but the label has since been extended back to the late 1980s. What sets trip-hop apart from hip-hop is that it blends a more diverse array of genres into proceedings, such as acid jazz, post-punk, reggae, and electronica. As a rule of thumb, trip-hop will mix samples with a more melancholic instrumental atmosphere and introspective lyrics. 

DJ Shadow claimed to have “invented trip-hop” because the term was first coined in 1994 following the release of his song ‘In/Flux’. Andy Pemberton, a writer for MixMag, came up with the term “trip-hop” to describe the musical journey, or “trip,” of the single in a review. 

What was the first song to use sampling?

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By all means, DJ Shadow was an electro-pioneer and his most notable release, 1996’s Endtroducing….., is nothing short of a masterpiece. The American producer laboured over his Akai MPC60 sampler and gave birth to the first album to have been constructed entirely from samples. 

DJ Shadow’s formative work in the field is undeniably due reverence, but the earliest trip-hop music can and should be traced back to the genre’s spiritual home, Bristol, UK. The city helped put trip-hop on the map throughout the 1990s; local giants Massive Attack and Portishead are still seen as the ace and king of the pack. 

Portishead released their Mercury Award-winning debut album, Dummy, in 1994. So, while innovating the genre with their stylish analogue samples, haunting vocals and distorted guitars, they are not our splendid source. The source lies in the 1980s with the three amigos: The Wild Bunch, Massive Attack and Tricky. 

As the more learned readers among you might have picked up, these three amigos are essentially one entity. Massive Attack formed in 1989 but was a phoenix that stepped from the ashes of The Wild Bunch, a loose collective of musicians, rappers and DJs from Bristol that formed in 1982. 

The Wild Bunch contained each member of the original Massive Attack lineup, including Tricky, and was first established by Grant Marshall and Miles Johnson as the two main DJs. In 1984, they invited a young graffiti artist known as 3D (aka Robert Del Naja) to join them as an MC. 

Throughout the ’80s, The Wild Bunch pioneered the sound-system culture and would play a host of all-night raves at clubs and abandoned warehouses. Their mixes generally resembled hip-hop, but toward their breakup and the formation of Massive Attack, they began to blend in reggae, dub and jazz. 

As the 1990s rolled around, Massive Attack were recording their first album, and in 1991, they released Blue Lines. The seminal debut record is widely considered the first and most exemplary trip-hop album. 

Blue Lines is a menagerie of down-tempo hip hop tracks seasoned with a bounty of guest genres, including reggae, soul and electro. For a change in vocal style from the rapping on some of the songs, the band brought in singer Shara Nelson. Nelson sang on three of the album’s four singles: ‘Safe From Harm’, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and ‘Daydreaming’.

Most memorable of all the singles was ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, arguably one of Massive Attack’s finest anthems to date. It is a beautifully atmospheric trip-hop classic layered with intriguing textures and instrumentals, thanks to a full orchestral arrangement recorded in Abbey Road studios financed by the reluctant sale of the band’s car. 

Listen to Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ below.