Burgeoning producers take note: If you’re seriously interested in gaining attention, follow DJ Danger Mouse’s plan. First, take the acapella vocals from an already dope album (in this case, Jay-Z’s Black Album), and lay them over some sick beats. And, if you really want to hit it big, use unauthorized samples from the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time. While Danger Mouse’s remix-thriving contemporaries like up-and-comers 9th Wonder and Soul Supreme (both of whom have created excellent work in their own right) may have produced better overall work, Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, will, for better or worse, be remembered by most as the crowning popular achievement of the chic remixing endeavors.
Ironic Danger Mouse chose to mix The Black Album’s acapellas with beats from The Beatles’ White Album, because, as daring (and illegal) as this idea was in and of itself, many critics acknowledge the double-disc White Album as The Beatles’ most daring and experimental. While few fans (if any at all), will wish that The Grey Album was the official release instead of the actual Black Album, it does offer an extremely interesting, and ultimately, pleasing listen.
The highlights are abundant, and disappointments minimal. The incredible exuberance of Just Blaze’s “Public Service Announcement,” tragically limited to just an interlude on the official Black Album, is reworked here over The Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” into something entirely different, though the new, somber feel nearly equals the original’s compulsivity. The heavy keys and acoustic guitar-chord strums of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” marries nicely with “What More Can I Say,” though the most impressive feature of this track is the stuttering bass kicks.
Danger Mouse displays a rather skilful ear on the lead single from The Black Album, The Neptunes-produced “Change Clothes,” as he meshes The Beatles’ acid trip-induced “Piggies” into an equally glossy track — even managing to find the right key so that Pharrell’s trademark falsetto vocals stay in pitch with the samples. This deftness was no fluke though, as he later pulls off the same assimilation trick with Jay’s “Allure” and The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.”
Perhaps the most impressive feat of the entire remix is, unexpectedly, the transformation of Timbaland’s club banger, “Dirt Off Your Shoulders,” from thick bass lines and synth melodies into a catchy guitar loop and heavy, rapid-fire bass kicks that could easily bump in the clubs just as well as the original. Those who were never struck by The Beatles’ “Julia” as a dance track are in for a huge surprise. And, in a similar vain, Danger Mouse offers “Justify My Thug,” DJ Quik’s disappointing contribution to the Black Album, a similarly impressive makeover with The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” even managing to squeeze a brief harmonica snippet in the loop.
There are a few missteps, however, on The Grey Album. Though not a bad remix, the obvious meshing of “99 Problems” with “Revolution #9” is really not much of a remix per se, as the original versions of both tracks feature abrasive electric guitar strokes and crashing cymbals. And, coincidentally, the tracks which seem to present Danger Mouse with the most problems are both Kanye West productions, though neither is altogether intolerable; “Lucifer” and “Encore” are two of the weaker ones on The Grey Album, particularly the latter, where the vocals and the music from “Glass Onion” seem to be just a split second out-of-step.
While The Grey Album will likely stand for a long time as a pop music anomaly — a bastard child of two pretty different music genres — it will also maintain credibility as not just a one-listen-wonder. After the curiosity factor has worn off, it still plays amazingly well and displays not just the talents of two entities with whom music fans are already familiar (The Beatles and Jay-Z), but also, and more importantly, Danger Mouse’s seamless ability to mix the two. Ironically, one of the tracks spared from Danger Mouse’s keen remix wizardry is “Threats,” originally produced by 9th Wonder, whose much-ballyhooed interpretation of Nas’ God’s Son (aptly-titled God’s Stepson) helped win him a beat on The Black Album.
Though Danger Mouse’s original work with partner Jemini is easily overshadowed by media exposure in the wake of receiving cease and desist orders, his original goal of making his name a household one was reached, and even exceeded. Those without a copy of The Grey Album probably won’t be able to find one of the few thousand original presses (which will some day fetch a pretty penny on eBay), but this is one of the rare cases where the artist likely encourages file-sharing. Regardless of means of acquisition, this one is a must have.