White Lines, Black Roads, Grey Album, Nothing Important

Recently I bought one of those tape-player CD adapters for my car stereo. I think it was one of the best purchases I made all year because now I can finally take my two old Sublime and Big Pun tapes out of permanent rotation and listen to music that has been released since I graduated from seventh grade.

The drive down to Stowe is now infinitely more enjoyable, thanks to a little known remix CD I stumbled across about a month ago. This week I won’t be able to run my mouth about my favorite winter sport because I’ve been preoccupied by something else. In case anybody has not yet heard, Jay-Z released one final masterpiece album- The Black Album- after announcing his retirement this summer. The Black Album is one of the best records I have heard in quite some time. It has tight beats, and to say the least the lyrics don’t disappoint either. Surprisingly though, I haven’t actually been listening to the Black Album a lot lately. An underground New York DJ took Jay-Z’s Black Album a cappella’s and made the single best remix CD EVER with them. New York’s DJ Danger Mouse who was supposedly inspired by the similarity between the titles of J’s Black Album and the Beatle’s White Album created a cross-generational musical masterpiece with his highly sought-after Grey Album. Danger Mouse aka Brian Burton took Jay’s Black Album lyrics and laid them over fresh new beats which he composed entirely out of samples from the Beatles’ well-known 1968 White Album. Such sampling of old records has always been a concept that is integral to hip-hop— listen to any track like Kanye West’s “Through the Wire”, or any DJ Premier, or Afrika Bambaataa produced beat and you’ll see what I mean. What is interesting about Danger Mouse’s project is that he created entirely original music with only one source for his samples. The beats are incredible and with few exceptions force you to listen to each track in its entirety. Most important in a remix-project like this one is that the instrumentals rhythmically mesh with the lyrics which are laid over them, and the Grey Album accomplishes this very difficult task with flying colors. Tracks like “Encore” make the listener believe that Jay-Z might have made his raps for Danger Mouse’s beats and not the other way around. “Public Service Announcement” combines audio clips from speeches, a finger-snapping, upbeat bassline, a melodic vocal loop and Jay’s bulletproof flow. “Moment of Clarity” is incredible; it is as good as the original but with an entirely different feel and tone- a great song in a new way. “Threat” and “99 Problems” are hands down the best tracks of the album, and are actually better than the originals. The Black Album’s irresistible, head-nodding “99 Problems” was produced by Rick Rubin who also produced The Beastie Boys’ classic hip-hop album License to Ill. Danger Mouse’s rendition of “99 Problems” sets the original rap over an addictive, fast-faced, guitar-riff infused beat. The track is a combination of Jay’s bouncing, mile a minute, high-energy flow with all the rock and roll firepower of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” Jay-Z may have ninety-nine problems but a beat ain’t one on this album. The fact that Danger Mouse’s remix tracks can hold their own, against the industry heavyweight producers who work with Jay-Z is a considerable accomplishment. If you make any claims to appreciate music you need to pick up this album. The Grey Album was produced and released in small numbers with no permission from neither Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella records nor the Beatle’s EMI. The album has generated a lot of buzz and has quickly become a new underground classic. The album has gotten rave reviews from hip-hop and Beatles fans alike. I passed out copies of it to kids in my dorm and everyone who has heard it loves it. Sadly for anyone who doesn’t have it, EMI sent Danger Mouse orders to “cease-and-desist” releasing copies. Cease-and-desist orders or not, this album has generated huge demand and copies of the songs can easily be download from file-sharing networks like Kazaa. What started as a creative personal challenge for a little-known DJ has turned into the most highly renowned remix mixtape CD in hip-hop history. Danger Mouse has managed to take two very different sources of music and create some enrapturing and original masterpieces of his own. DJ Danger Mouse has managed to broaden the fan-bases of listeners for both the Beatles and Jay-Z, which is no small task when you consider that they are the two of the most well-known rock and roll and hip hop acts of all time. Some great music like this is exactly what I need to get me pumped to tackle the slopes as we begin to make the transition from below-zero boarding to sunny spring skiing. If you have any sort of audio device in your car, let me just suggest again that Danger Mouse’s project gets some airtime on the drive to the mountain. Whether you are a hip-hop head or a bongo-drum-banging, beatnik-Beatles’-bum you need to give the Grey Album a listen.