February 2, 2004
Grey on Grey


Enough, now. Whether you're a writer for Rolling Stone, or a producer at MTV.com, or some ad-agency employee in Detroit, or, ultimately, Ben Greenman writing for the New Yorker, you really have to calm down a bit regarding your anticipatory coverage of one particular underground hip-hop release.

I've been patiently biting my tongue for the past month, now, after having received a copy of Danger Mouse's supposed magnum opus (the oft-celebrated, though not-yet-released, Grey Album, his mashup of the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's 2003 Black Album) over the December holidays, but, finally, it was Greenman's most recent "Talk of the Town" piece that pushed me to write this. If, after all the incendiary hype documented above, you've been eagerly awaiting the album's unofficial bootleg release sometime in the coming weeks, trust me, don't.

While a significant portion of Greenman's material seems to have been culled from the same press release as was featured in this week's Rolling Stone, the New Yorker piece nonetheless does a reasonable job of detailing the record's handful of tracks that do, in fact, have any listenable value. Notably, this includes Jay-Z's "99 Problems" laid over the Beatles' "Helter Skelter," as well as Danger Mouse's reconstruction of the Beatles' “Mother Nature’s Son.” Also appearing on the album, however, are a number of strong reworkings, including the album's opener, featuring a mlange of Jay-Z's vocals and the Beatles' delicate psychedelia. There's also a blend of the backing track from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" dubbed under Jay-Z's lyrics, as well as a tasteful reworking of "Encore," one of the better tracks off of the Black Album. Except all this hype misses the bigger picture, that is to say, well, Jay-Z sucks.

Do yourself a favor: temper your expectations a bit, download the Grey Album from your favorite RIAA-antagonistic file-sharing service, listen to it a few times, enjoy it, even, and then go out and purchase Danger Mouse's much better 2003 full length album, DM & Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life, out on the UK-based Lex Records imprint. While a number of British publications called Ghetto Pop Life last year's best hip-hop record, they might very well be right (despite the British musical press' contentions that the Strokes are, in fact, good). Featuring sharp, crystalline production (as opposed to the tinny, vinyl-sourced White Album material), ample hooks, and lyrics that manage to be sharp, clever and yet fun all at once, the album hearkens back to early-90s era Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul material. Better yet, you can preview full-length tracks at Bleep.com.

You want retro-oriented hip-hop? It's 1993 all over again.

Posted in a Shallow, Soundproof fashion.

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