On DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album

Not long after I bought my Beetle, at the tail end of 2004, I decided I needed an awesome album for the Beetle’s stereo.

I needed the Grey Album.

The Grey Album was the infamous mash of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ The Beatles (which everyone refers to as “The White Album,” because of its white cover) by DJ Danger Mouse. It became fairly widely distributed on the Internet, even after EMI, the Beatles’ publisher, sent out cease-and-desist orders to various and sundry websites.

I’m not sure how I heard of it. Maybe I read of it in a magazine. I think it appeared in a music album “Best Of” list I read about the same time as I bought the Beetle. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I think that sounds correct.

Yes, I could have found it for download, but I only had dial-up at the time, and I didn’t have a CD burner. So I turned to eBay, and I found a vender who was selling the album. And it came to me as a CD-R with a printed label in an envelope.

I listened to it, even though Jay-Z isn’t really my style. I liked it.

I may have told the story about the hellish trip from Raleigh to Baltimore for Shore Leave in 2005 (though, curiously, I only allude to it in a Shore Leave write-up). For those coming in late…

The Woodrow Wilson was under construction or repair or somesuch, so the stretch of the Washington Beltway between the 395 merge and the Woodrow Wilson was bumper-to-bumper at two miles an hour. For reasons I can’t explain, I decided that I wasn’t going to sit in traffic and run the air conditioning; I cranked all the windows down and opened the sun roof instead. (And I ended up with sunburned knees for my trouble.) I put a CD in the stereo — yes, the Grey Album — and I had it cranked up, and I was bopping and banging my head like a fiend.

And then!

I could “feel” someone staring at me. This sense that there were eyes on me was overwhelming. I looked up, and I looked to my left, and I saw a white cargo-style van. And there were two little kids staring at me, giving me a look that said, “What’s this white boy doing listening to the Jigga Man?” I smiled, flashed them the ILY sign, and went back to rocking out to the Grey Album.

I hadn’t listened to the Grey Album in a while. Probably a year or two. I do listened to some other Jay-Z mashes — I like the Jaydiohead mashes (Jay-Z meets Radiohead) a great deal, and Viva La Hova (Jay-Z meets Coldplay) is pretty enjoyable, too. There’s also OJAYZIS — Jay-Z meets Oasis — but I’m not as fond of that one.

After Farpoint, I discovered that my old CD-R, from years ago, no longer played. (CD-Rs, sadly, do not last forever.) I found a download, and very soon I had the album again.

In headphones, it really and truly sounds impressive. DJ Danger Mouse did an impressive job bringing together two very different musical styles and making them compatible. If you ever want an example of what an awesome band the Beatles were, listen to the backing tracks on the Grey Album; there is some truly sharp musicianship, from Ringo Starr’s drumming to Paul McCartney’s bass to George Harrison’s guitar work.

It’s simply an amazing sounding album. Perhaps even a better piece of work than LOVE, the Cirque de Soliel album.

what brings this up? I’ve seen quotes, in the past week, from both Jay-Z and Sir Paul McCartney that discuss the album.

First, Jay-Z, from an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air last November: “I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity. And that was a genius idea to do, and it sparked so many others like it. It’s really good. … I was honored someone took the time to mash those records up with Beatles records. I was honored to be on quote-unquote the same song with The Beatles.”

And, more recently, Sir Paul McCartney: “I didn’t mind when something like that happened with the Grey Album. But the record company minded. They put up a fuss. But I was like, ‘Take it easy guys, it’s a tribute.'”

It’s too bad this album will never be released officially. If you like the Beatles and/or hip-hop, it’s definitely worth tracking down — and it’s easily found online. 🙂

I should probably track down the Beatles/Wu-Tang mash-up next….

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