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Shut Up And Listen 154

Old + Old = New

Wow, for the past few days, I've been listening to a Jay-Z album. Didn't see that one coming.

The album in question is called The Grey Album, which is a mix of Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' The White Album. Basically, a guy by the name of DJ Danger Mouse took the vocals off The Black Album and stuck them on top of The White Album. That's a bit of a simplification, because he didn't just place them on top. He actually remixed it a bit so it actually fits with the vocals. And believe it or not, it's pretty good. Some of the tracks are very fucking good. I'd highly recommend that you download the twelve tracks DJ Danger Mouse mixed. You can do so here.

I heard about this album first when Warren Ellis mentioned it online. I tend to pay attention to when Ellis mentions music or books or whatever. In the past, I've taken his recommendations and more often than not was glad for it. I got into Mark Leyner's writing because of Ellis recommending it in the letter column of an issue of Transmetropolitan and me needing something to read in the summer, and the library just happened to have it. I've also downloaded some shit he's said was good. Some of it was good, some of it wasn't quite my cup of tea, but hey, no harm, no foul. I'll still give most of that shit a look. But I didn't feel like downloading an entire 12-track album, so I ignored his saying it was good. But then more and more people I know were saying it was good. And then there was the whole business where it was pissing off EMI, the company that holds the rights to The White Album and the fact that they didn't quite like that this was out there. Jay-Z's label was cool with it, as they released an a copula (or however the term is spelled--the spell check here is no help) version of the album exactly for the purpose of people doing mixes and remixes of it. Really, the guy had done it for fun and made some copies for friends and sold a few over the net. Nothing big, but still, violation of copyright and all of that. So on Tuesday, sites were encouraged to put up The Grey Album in protest of EMI preventing further release of it. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 sites participated.

Now, this isn't the first case of this that I've run across. People are calling The Grey Album brilliant and ahead of its time and shit like that, and I won't deny the fact that it's good, but the ahead of its time part could be argued. It's the first case I know of where an album was made out of two old ones though. I've heard a few mixed songs before though. I've got a CD containing a bunch of them. Stuff like Destiny's Child's "Bottylicious" laid on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"; Eminem's "Lose Yourself" laid on Beck's "Loser"; Eminem's "Superman" laid on The Prodigy's "Breath"; and my favourite "Whomp There It Is" laid on Marilyn Manson's "mOBSCENE". The last one is definitely one of my favourite mixes. I remember telling a friend that it was a combination of rap and hard rock that bands like Linkin Park try and do, but fail. Mixes like this tend to work the best with rap vocals laid on other songs. Rap vocals aren't as dependent on the melodies that back them as rock songs or even straight pop songs.

My friend Raj and I were talking about this the other day and we both think that because of The Grey Album's popularity and critical success that we'll be seeing a lot more of these mixes. The sad fact is that most of them are gonna suck ass, because most of the people doing them won't realise that to do this sort of thing requires actual skill. It'll be like when techno was in fashion and there were a lot of people thinking that anyone can do it and then were baffled why no one cared about their shit while Moby, Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers were getting great reviews and selling records. If you listen to The Grey Album you'll see that skill was involved. On some tracks you can tell easily what Beatles' song it is, but on a bunch it's not so easy because the songs were remixed to compliment the vocals. In a few of the songs, most people would be surprised to hear that it's not even the original back-beat because it sounds like a regular rap back-beat kind of thing (a good one though).

Personally, I like these mixes. The good ones are better than the originals. Like I'll take the mix of "Whomp There It Is" and "mOBSCENE" over either one of the original songs any day of the week. It took two okay songs and made a fucking great song. So we're most likely now gonna enter an age of mixes where most will suck, but the few that are good will be very, very fucking good. The Grey Album is a good example of this. Not every track is really good, but the ones that are, are very good. Download it and see for yourself.