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Danger Mouse - The Grey Album

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Artist: Danger Mouse

Album: The Grey Album

Label: self-released

Review date: Feb. 26, 2004

It was supposed to be Jay-Z’s final opus; The Black Album, his 8th studio effort in a career that started seven years ago and marked the inception of hip hop’s most successful street rapper, officially bowed Jigga out of rap music, the game that he almost single handedly took upon his shoulders after the demise of the Notorious BIG. Many would ask 'why quit now?' But with a Rocafella empire valued somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.4 billion, the sales of impending albums look like chump change in comparison, and as the track “What More Can I Say” implies, Jay-Z has clearly exhausted his bag of street hustlin’ goodies. Having been touted as his finest offering to date(Reasonable Doubt and Blueprint edge it out, in my opinion), Jay-Z seems to have retired from hip hop as gracefully as anyone could have imagined.

But the wide availability of accapella albums has allowed anybody to rest Jay-Z’s legacy in their hands, continuing a growing fad of filtering commercially mainstream albums through the lens of independent producers. While Kev Brown and Kardinal Offishall & Solitaire have relased The Brown Album and The Black Jays Album respectively, it’s Dangermouse’s take that will likely garner the most attention. He’s known best for last year’s stellar Ghetto Pop Life with partner Jemini, as well as a series of mash up 12 inches that have fused unlikely artists like Susanna Vega and 50 Cent, DM has released The Grey Album using the Beatles’ The White Album as his sole palette for sample material. We can hope for the best, and expect the worst, but what we get is something somewhere in between, using The White Album probably as well as anyone could have, yet with an occasional awkwardness that’s hard to ignore.

As any remix album often becomes a stat comparison between the original, The Grey Album is much more than that, assuming that the listener has a strong familiarity with The White Album and forcing them to pay attention to the samples at hand and whether they work or not. With that said, the first two tracks, “Public Service Announcement” and “What More Can I Say,” make surprisingly good use of “”Long Long Long” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” respectively, DM successfully adding depth and texture. Really, this is about as straightforward as DM’s tracks get, as many receive the Martin Yan treatment. For “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” a Timbaland masterpiece that no remix could top, DM uses the melancholy “Julia” to almost unrecognizable effect, creating what sounds like what East Asian crunk music must sound like, as Lennon’s butchered voice stutters helplessly in the background. Receiving similar treatment are “Moment of Clarityth” and “Lucifer,” the latter of which almost becomes an instrumental with Jay-Z’s backwards vocals occasionally woven in.

“Change Clothes,” just like “Frontin’,” were huge disappointments, so any overhaul is likely to prove superior. Interestingly, DM picks the Scottish jig found in the middle of “Piggies” as the foundation of this remix, battered by finicky drums and lazy programming. It’s places like this where things can be categorized as awkward, and it’s blatantly obvious that it’s merely for sake of the conceptuality of the project. Similarly, “My First Song” sounds more like a cry of desperation or an excuse to be creative. Whatever it is, its use of “Cry Baby Cry” is nothing more than a mess, unable to make sense of the decisions DM employed.

There are certainly more fun moments than not, at the very least rendering The Grey Album enjoyable, but it’s hard to argue for any reason other than its novelty. Play it at a party and see how long you can keep a packed crowd, or better yet, play it for your parents and see if their heads explode. Personally, I’d rather have DM laying out the next Ghetto Pop Life, but albums like this are still things you’d show off, just cause The White Album is so 1968.

By Brian Ho

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