The Grey Album: The Return of Sampling, The End of New Music, and The Fall of Western Civilization
It’s the most significant rap album since Paul’s Boutique, arguably the only one since the Beastie’s groundbreaking acid trip that can really lay claim to a significant political stance in the upcoming epic battle over corporate copyright laws. While the Beasties may not have set out to craft the ultimate “fuck you” to Disney and the late Sonny Bono, revisionist history says they came damn close. DJ Danger Mouse, however, just put his foot so far up the RIAA’s asshole, Nutty McShithead will be tasting his boot-soles for years.
“You say you want a revolution?” —The Beatles, 1968
“What the hell are you waiting for?” —Jay-Z, 2003
For those that haven’t heard, Danger Mouse took The Beatles’ White Album, pulled some beats from it, and laid them down under the vocals from Jay-Z’s Black Album. (That this pairing just by chance creates “grey,” as in “many shades of grey,” as in the only sane way to interpret law, is no coincidence.) The result is Dope With A Capital “D, motherfucker, D.” I respect and appreciate the Beatles, though I’m no great fan, nor am I one to pimp Roc-a-Fella. But this is not about the Fab Four, nor is it about Jigga, because The Grey Album is bigger than either—they’re just the instruments Danger Mouse plays to construct a new vision of remixed, sample-driven rap that’s as mind-blowing as anything dreamt up by the Dust Brothers back in the day. Just listen—what you’re hearing in the oddly shaped sounds is the future.
And yes, the future resembles a Neal Stephenson sci-fi novel: There’s no more “new” music, everyone is an artist, and we all provide an endless source of free entertainment for each other in a neo-campfire sing-along and high-tech show-and-tell. Steve Jobs would tell you that’s the iLife, but it goes much deeper than that. Think reality TV, This American Life, Jackass, Web cams, blogs, and cell-phone cameras, with all of us on a P2P network that works through our TiVo’s. Those who really doubt we could survive a mass-market entertainment holocaust, you’re invited to my friend Dano’s next karaoke party.
You can make a legitimate argument that no-one has played a new note since before the advent of recorded music, John Coltrane included, but who needs to innovate anyway, now that we have digital tools to catalog and inventory every harmony, melody, and bit of cacophonous silence that’s ever been put down on wax/tape/hard drive? And then manipulate it. I, for one, will be content to listen to nothing other than remixed Classic Rock for the rest of my natural life, if it is handled as deftly as Danger Mouse dispatches The Beatles in the name of hip hop sacrilege.
Sacrilege, of course, since Grey was not deployed for profit, an album so hot it’s melting the cheddar atop the American-as-apple-pie cultural product we know as Hip Hop. True dat, it’s all about the Benjamins, say the marketing mopes, but Danger is all about the revolution of art and the art of revolution, and by the way, this shit is free. The Grey Album is not available in stores, it’s just floating around on the Internet, ready and waiting for you to download. (This means the RIAA is going to have a hell of a time suing you for “stealing” it. No, on this one they’re going to be hanging the DJ, not you and me.)
That it’s free is important. It’s important because it fucks with the most important basis of capitalism, that you can (and should) put a price on anything (and everything). Forget that it pisses off the RIAA and the rest of the entertainment cabal and encourages more people to say, “Fuck your copyright laws.” No, what’s really trick is that Danger Mouse is giving us cause to imagine a world where we’re not paying for culture, but participating in it, where music and other types of art are around us as a daily part of our lives. Where our public space, be it physical or psychological, is not under the grasp of corporate ownership, but free and open to the discourse of the interested.