Right: Artwork by Justin Hampton
Hip-hop and the Beatles? You would swear it would never work, right? Well, Danger Mouse has 'released' a bold new experiment that mixes Jay-Z's 2003 "The Black Album" with the Beatles 1968 classic, "The White Album" in what has become an underground hit among hip-hop aficionados. And it just might be the hippest album you CAN’T FIND! What is it called? “The Grey Album" of course.
Producer and DJ Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton is the creator of the "Grey Album", which combines the vocal content of Jay-Z's 2003 "Black Album" with new beats from the Beatles "White Album". Burton said that the similarity in the two albums' names sparked an impulse to do the remix, further explaining that, "It was an experiment", and that the album "was supposed to be an underground project." After two weeks of remixing, Burton sent a few hundred copies to friends and industry folks.
Only 3,000 copies of the album were pressed and despite the albums popularity, it is almost impossible to find a copy (I downloaded my copy from an internet site). Burton received a "cease-and-desist" letter from EMI demanding that production be stopped. Burton countered, saying "The (album's) already out there and there's nothing I can do about it". It was being sold on ebay, but has since been pulled. Rebecca Laurie, of Downhill Battle (A Music Activism website) said, "EMI isn't looking for compensation, they're trying to ban a work of art." Others agree that art supercedes copyright: "Special interests, including the major labels, have turned copyright law into a weapon," said Downhill Battle co-founder Holmes Wilson. "If Danger Mouse had requested permission and offered to pay royalties, EMI still would have said no and the public would never have been able to enjoy this critically acclaimed work. Artists are being forced to break the law to innovate."
Now that I've listened to it what do I think? I'm actually in the minority - a Beatles fan that is open minded to Beatle interpretation. To me, there is no “holy relic” when it comes to Beatles songs. A few years ago I downloaded a trance mix of Sgt. Pepper that was really cool – I figured that it worked then, why not now? What do I think of "The Grey Album"? Well, I was pleasantly surprised - it is catchy and ingenious in its use of Beatles songs, being a bold hybrid of both old and new. I've found myself strangely drawn to it and it has become my fave record of the moment.
My favorites are "December 4th" ("Mother Nature's Son"), "99 Problems" ("Helter Skelter") and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" ("Julia"). "December 4th" show that not all hip-hop is loud and obnoxious, this song is actually quite touching, tastefully sampling "Mother Nature's Son". "99 Problems", with its catchy "Helter Skelter" riffs should be released as a single immediately! I found myself humming this damn song all day. Finally, "Dirt Off Your Shoulder", with its hypnotizing "Julia" guitar riff is another that ingrained itself in my brain.
Of course, being a Beatles fanatic, part of the fun was identifying Beatle tracks. Most were easy to spot, the hardest one being the brief sample of "Dear Prudence" throughout "Allure". A few songs even sampled two Beatles tracks within one song - to great effect. Which "White Album" Beatles songs are used? Here is the distribution if you break it down by songs that each individual Beatle wrote:
For the curious I have listed each Jay-Z song and it's Beatles counterpart:
01 "Public Service Announcement"- "Long Long Long"
Note: There were only 12 tracks listed on the website that I used to download the tracks. However, Jay-Z's "Black Album" lists 13 tracks. So, there might be one track that I am missing.
Of course the 'old guard' of Beatles fans are probably gonna hate this album, especially the mindless sycophant’s that loved LET IT BE...NAKED. Speaking of which, the Beatles fan cry of "you are messing with history" rings hollow now that EMI itself basically officially released a Beatles remix album with LET IT BE...NAKED. So, it is alright for EMI/Apple to remix the Beatles, but nobody else? Plus, I think that John Lennon himself would have been pleasantly surprised of the inclusion of "Revolution 9" in any project!
There is a bit of irony in a hip-hop version of the "White Album", especially when you think of Charles Manson's affinity for that album and the fact that he is an established racist. Charlie brainwashed his followers using sex, acid and the music of the "White Album", telling his converts of his own interpretation of the Beatles classic. It would be poetic justice to force Charlie to have to listen to "The Grey Album" endlessly in his cell. Maybe that would finally make him crack and confess the crimes that we already know he did (but never has admitted to).
As much as I like the "Grey Album", don't count me part of the hip-hop nation yet. I do look forward to more Danger Mouse hybrid projects, as the possibilities are endless! It would have been a perfect joke to have Danger Mouse do a remix of "Let It Be...Naked" That is irony - a remix of a remix!