Comments on fade to grey
commentson 24 February 2004 : 10:43, wayne sez:

I'm not a Beatles fan and I haven't heard the complete White Album in perhaps 10 years, so in the first two listens of the Grey Album the samples weren't all obvious to me. I was able to listen to it as an original album.

It's not a good album. Not that it doesn't have moments. Not that is isn't a clever concept. But much of it is monotonous plodding ("What More Can I Say" "Moment of Clarity" "Allure"). I don't listen to much new hip hop or Jay Z. My reaction to his portion of the album was "they haven't moved past this?" and "no wonder Eminem seems like a genius to people".

Danger Mouse's mixing and editing ("99 Problems" "Justify My Thug" "Interlude") is simplistic compared to DJ Qbert's efforts from a decade ago and dozens of "mash" artists that are active today. He finds a few clever moments but doesn't have the dexterity to create true humor or explore irony.

At the end of several listens I went and listened to the White Album. It's a cliché, but yeah, what a great, original, unique album it is. Surprising somebody would tap its greatness and end up with something so mediocre. It's a shame that EMI was so stupid and turned this thing into a bigger deal than it is...

commentson 24 February 2004 : 11:23, James sez:

Hate to say it, but the whole "Grey Album" hullaballoo is stupid on a number of levels.

(1) The concept of mixing Jay-Z's album with the Beatles' album, solely on the basis of the titles of the album, is gimmicky and dumb. It suggests a kind of equivalence between the albums which does not exist. The Black Album is not very good; the Beatles album was instantly recognized to be a classic.

(2) The notion of a "right to sample" strikes me as equally stupid. It's someone's intellectual property, and any moron should be able to understand that. Just because many people like the Beatles does not make their music "public property," for sampling or anything else. They worked hard to make it; if you want to use it -- for listening or sampling or anything else -- you should pay for it.

(3) And finally, it's a silly cause celebre for hipsters to advocate on their websites. It's irritating how typical it is for politically correct young hipsters to trumpet their liking for hip-hop, while carefully disclaiming that they don't approve of the sexist lyrics. It's as though you're trying to gain street cred for liking the idea of hip-hop, while distancing yourself from the meanings that it conveys. But can you really separate out the elements of art like that? Would you profess an admiration for a musician only some of whose songs celebrated white supremacy? Or are you engaging in a subtle racism, making an allowance for sexism because "these rappers are from the ghetto, they can't be expected to be as enlightened as me"?

commentson 24 February 2004 : 12:00, wayne sez:

Outside of the issue of money, one thing I got from Lessing's article that Justin linked to was that the right to sample issue also protects artists from record companies - Similar to the way church/state originally designed to protect religions from the state, also protects the state from religion.

We are looking at this issue today from the view of DJ (unknown to most Americans) mixing a popular rap artist with a classic rock album. It's the little guy versus the Man. But it will be only a few years before the corporations -commission- the Britney Spears remix of "OK Computer."

Which would be fine and interesting. But imagine a corporate music act freely sampling some new band or artist, paying them, but without permission. Suddenly interest in this new artist is diffused because the new artist's original and interesting hooks are played to death on the radio. Radiohead's last album was online before it was sold - imagine a corporate remix album being released before a band's version of the album.

The corporations are protesting now, but like video tape, they will realize this is where the culture is moving and find a future area of profits. They already own all the music, they can pay themselves when they remix albums on the same label. In the 90s they realized a huge area of profit in compilation albums and soundtracks. These "remix" projects will be a similar way to resell something old as something slightly new. Once the corporations catch up to the culture (and they always do), will free sampling rights really end up promoting creativity and new art? Or bland and mediocre remix products for the millions of people who just want a "sample" of new artists with their old favorites?

commentson 24 February 2004 : 12:45, justin sez:

That's a provocative scenario you spin Wayne. But part of sampling is to draw on the currency of previous music. So sampling from a completely unknown band is kind of pointless in many cases - there's no familiar pop of recognition ("hey that's James Brown!" or "That's an old martial arts movie translation!").

The Grey Album is an example of premium music starfucking. Kind of like slash fiction for music. DJ Dangermouse stages these two unlikely performing companions in his own music mixup, bringing attention to himself by synthesizing two famous people all by his unfamous lonesome. Sampling Jay-Z and some small band would not be interesting unless it had other strong merits. In that case, it should probably be distributed!

There's a constant interplay between the outside and the mainstream. The outside feeds off of the detritus of the mainstream and the mainstream steals back. So sampling is a part of that - by large bands or by small bands.

Hopefully there's an easy way to exchange attention between them, to balance things out. Little guys get some currency from famous guys.

The Creative Commons licenses allow for some sampling, with proper credit given, in non-commercial circumstances. Copyright today is just a vague threat, weilded primarily by large companies and seldom by people like Art Buchwald. Hopefully there would be some room in copyright for people to freely, rightfully exchange little media bits, no matter what their position.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 12:51, Coolfer sez:

First, EMI owns the recordings that Danger Mouse used to remix Jay-Z's The Black Album. The key word is owns. This is an ownership issue. Since Danger Mouse does not own those songs, he does not have free reign to use them as he sees fit. A master recording of a classic album is not akin to an open source programming code that is free to all users. It's a legally protected work of art. Just because Danger Mouse made this album doesn't mean the world has a right to hear it.

Second, Danger Mouse did not go through the proper channels. That is, he never even asked for permission to use those songs. He didn't attempt to reach an agreement that would allow him to pay royalties to EMI. Music is a business, and like all businesses it is guided by a set of laws. If Danger Mouse is going to be a legitimate recording artist and sell The Grey Album in legitimate places of business, he cannot play by his own rules.

Third, this isn't about censorship. It's about a companies' right to legally protest its assets. The Beatles catalog is a serious business asset. EMI and Apple have the right to choose how The Beatles' legacy will survive. Danger Mouse does not get to make that call.

Fourth, Danger Mouse has and will continue to experience financial gain due to his illegal use of The Beatles' songs...but will he share the money with the owners of the recordings or with the writers of the songs? It is wrong for one artist to benefit from another's creative works and not provide just compensation.

Modern day business has been built upon the protections granted to creative works, whether it be a copyright or a patent. Downhill Battle wants to undermine these keystones of worldwide business. They call it a "copyright cartel," but they offers no alternative to today's copyright law other than to steal from music companies as one sees fit. Until they are part of the public domain, EMI has the legal right to do whatever it pleases with those songs. In the meantime, Downhill Battle should take this matter to the courts, or spur legislation to change copyright law.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 13:21, wayne sez:

Justin I agree with your point about sampling often relying on already known artists. I think the Gray Album certainly is a good example of that, but also of the pitfalls, as I outlined above. A clever concept doesn't carry music for 60 minutes.

Just as often there is sampling of artists that people do not recognize. How many people have heard of the Chi-Lites? Their song is used as the main hook of the hit "Crazy in Love." On their site they link to an MTV story that mentions them, but how many Beyonce fans have heard of them or are even aware that it is a sample? Check out the Apple-created album "Straight from the Crate", which is a collection of recent R&B hits matched with the original songs they were sampled from. Obviously a bunch of those are songs you know, but there are many you don't and weren't aware were samples in the first place. And you probably have a much wider knowledge of different areas of music than the average MTV fan. In this example most are old songs, so I can't argue that new or up and coming artists are being hurt. Besides the royalties, I don't see how these samples have helped the small artists. It's not like the masses of fans are now aware that they exist thanks to the big corporate artists that have sampled them. It is impossible to hear classic funk and R&B that songs like "Crazy in Love" sample on the radio stations that play new R&B hits.

I think sampling is part of an art form. I think it has produced many wonderful creations. But if we look at the last 20 years of how sampling has been used and where we have arrived, I think this notion of the poor small guy using the old rich big guy as leverage is outdated now. And certainly will not be an accurate stereotype for the future.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 14:09, Taylor sez:

Speaking of sampling, thank you wayne, I have been using your words for my own on a forum I go to occasionally.

And by the way, great debate so far!

commentson 24 February 2004 : 14:21, wayne sez:

Great Taylor...! Hopefully I'm the Beatles to your Danger Mouse.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 15:10, Don Wrege sez:

"Isn't there a way that young artists should be able to freely reinterpret their legacy, paying royalties from any resulting sales?"

Yeah. Music lessons.


commentson 24 February 2004 : 15:34, alison sez:

If DJ Dangermouse needed a "black album", he should have gone with the Damned. Their Black Album kicks Jay Z's Black Album 's ass all over the place.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 20:01, Jason sez:

“(3) And finally, it's a silly cause celebre for hipsters to advocate on their websites. It's irritating how typical it is for politically correct young hipsters to trumpet their liking for hip-hop, while carefully disclaiming that they don't approve of the sexist lyrics. It's as though you're trying to gain street cred for liking the idea of hip-hop, while distancing yourself from the meanings that it conveys. But can you really separate out the elements of art like that? Would you profess an admiration for a musician only some of whose songs celebrated white supremacy? Or are you engaging in a subtle racism, making an allowance for sexism because "these rappers are from the ghetto, they can't be expected to be as enlightened as me"?”
James, it’s sad that there are people like you that judge something without doing any kind of research on it. You paint a picture as if all Hip-Hop is racist, sexist, violent, and has no redeemable value. Apparently you only watch MTV and listen to Pop Radio Stations because I don’t know how else you could have such a tunnel vision view of a genre of music. It would be like me saying I hate all Rock Music because all I have heard is bands that would fall under the sub-genre Hatecore.

There is a lot of Hip-Hop out there that has an extremely positive message, but unfortunately that is not what sells the most to the masses, so it gets very little air play.

Rather than go on and on about how you are wrong, I am going to give you a homework assignment. Please listen and watch the following, then write a 3 page essay about how these albums and movie forever changed your views on Hip-Hop:

De La Soul – Stakes Is High (It could very well be the best Hip-Hop Album of all time in my opinion. Pay special attention to the lyrics in the track “Stakes Is High.”)

Common – Like Water For Chocolate (Highlights: The Light, Nag Champa (Afrodisiac For The World) *EXTRA CREDIT: Listen to the track Common – Come Close off the album Electric Circus.

The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??! (Just a fun album about life etc.)

*I would give you more albums, but then it would be too easy to write the paper if you only had to touch each one, and not go into detail. :^D

Check out the movie Beat Street. I saw this as a kid, and have been addicted to this art form ever since. It’s not the greatest movie of all time, but does give you a good idea of what Hip-Hop is really all about.

commentson 24 February 2004 : 20:04, Jason sez:

I guess pasting from Word doesn't work too well. :^/

commentson 24 February 2004 : 20:50, nick sez:

I'm not even sure whether this is Paul and Ringo's decision to make, Justin. EMI essentially has a contractual free hand to administer the performance rights. (And the songwriting copyright belongs to Michael Jackson -- or rather, the merged Sony/ATV publishing company, in which Jackson has a 50% stake.)

Sad thing is (and I'm talking to you, Coolfer) that so many of the great 80s recordings using samples could never be made today. (And I doubt that some of the sonic experiments on the White Album itself could be made, either...)

Yet again, EMI shows how good it is at killing the goose because it hasn't laid a golden egg since the bosses signed off on Mariah Carey's contract.

The 'right to sample' should be as obvious as fair use; or better still, as obvious as the right to be influenced by, and emulate, the stylistics and phraseology of the written word. Someone should be watching James and Coolfer to see if they ever use idioms in their working life that could feasibly still be under copyright. And the next time they're heard singing 'Happy Birthday' when there's a video camera present, make sure there's a writ at hand.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 06:06, Ethan sez:

Lyrical samples can be iffy as well. Rappers directly quote each other or reference, but no one seems to get in trouble for it (references and inside-joke signifiers have always been cool, and jazz solos do the same thing).

In the case of lyrics for instance, the Bitch song that Justin talks about has the theme (and even the same sample!) as Jeru The Damaja's "Da Bitches". Some people would think this is a direct bite (like me) but some people think it's a cool reference or don't know. Other people like Justin think it's just some guy saying "bitch" a lot. What would Kaori Kitao think about rap connoisseurship compared to art history?

One of my favorite Big Daddy Kane songs is Warm it up, Kane. I noticed that Jay-Z quotes this verbatim in one song, "Come, get some, you little bum..." Never does Jay-Z say, "Get it? That's Big Daddy Kane". Yet in another song, Jay says something like "You didn't get that did you? You don't know where I got that from?" So when do you have to give credit to your ideas? Pretty much nobody knows Big Daddy Kane anymore. I dont'see Timberlake wearing an "Ain't No Halfsteppin" t-shirt. Maybe Wilson can make one.

The only other time I've encountered "Warm it up, Kane" in pop-culture is in the movie "25th Hour". A fictitious great new DJ is playing in a club, and as the characters lounge around you can hear the lyrics "Come get some, you little bum..." That's the only part you can hear! And it happens to be the only part which Jay-Z uses. To me, this means Jay-Z wants people to see Spike Lee's movie and recognize. Signifier accomplished. How far deep can you bury a reference?

I put references to Kaori and Wilson in my post above, because it shows that I know a bit about That's what rappers are doing with their lyrical references to hip-hop knowledge, but they don't come out and spell it out. There is a lot of gray area.

Another incredible sampling resource is Just look at all of Jay-Z's samples.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 06:27, Ethan sez:

Two more things:

1) A link is broken in my post above...the correct link for the Jeru the Damaja song about "bitches" which Jay-Z steals/borrows is I recommend reading the lyrics and comparing the theme to Jay-Z's song. I wouldn't have had the guts to do make Jay's version.

2) I don't think the Jay-Z song is even on the Black Album. It was from Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 09:38, Jason sez:

For those of you looking for more Hip-Hop with a 70's rock sound, check out Common's album Electric Circus. Also for more "underground" style of Hip-Hop, check out The Beatbasement . They have a radio station stream of really good hip-hop.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 17:16, enema-M sez:

Jason--i agree with you that there are exceptions, but at the same time i think James is right that MOST rap (these days) is sexist, hateful, etc. and i think he makes a good point about the hipocracy in ones willingness to overlook/excuse these messages.

beat street is a 20+ year old movie and is hardly representative of the current state of rap/hip hop. it is true that the hip hop of that time was not extremely sexist and violent as it is today.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 18:14, John sez:

Oh whatever, be quiet. People will download it if they want to. EMI can do whatever they want, they're unable to have any sort of impact.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 21:11, Jason sez:


Where are you guys getting this "MOST" stuff from? There is a whole world of Hip-Hop out there that you don't even know about that is nothing like the stuff you talk about. I think maybe you are also basing this on what you see on MTV, and hear on the radio.

As far as the movie Beat Street not being very representive of what the Hip-Hop Culture is like today, I would have to disagree. Every year in Cincinnati, Scribble Magazine has a three day festival called Scribble Jam. There you will see some of the best graffiti artists from all over the world painting on the walls surrounding the venue. There is also break dance crew(B-Boy) Battles, MC Battles, and DJ Battles. There is a very positive vibe going on there, as everyone that is there has a passion for the culture, and there isn't any sexism or hatefulness to be found.

I think it's a bad idea to put a blanket statement on anything. I think it's even a worse when you put it on something that you know isn't 100% true.

commentson 25 February 2004 : 22:01, enema-M sez:

i think it is great you are into what seems to be a very pure and positive hip hop scene. i am passionate about wide variety of music myself (not hip hop--but lots of other stuff).

you are exactly right that when i said 'MOST' i was referring to what is on MTV, the radio, in my face in random public places, etc. this is the mainstream, so yes--it is MOST of what's out there (in terms of quantity). what you are into sounds very different--but it is not the mainstream.

i think the original point (from James) was more about people who ARE listening to these sexist, violent, etc. lyrics. because rap is so much about the lyrics that you really can't separate yourself from the message.

as far as this gray album i think he has every right to make it, but no right to sell it or profit from it. (and for the record--i think it sucks).

commentson 28 February 2004 : 03:24, mike.b sez:

Great discussion above.

This is all somewhat reminiscent of the David and Goliath story outta the old testament. In this case, I'm ashamed to say that I find myself rooting for Goliath, cause DM's art don't stand on it's own. If the work rolled intensely through our souls, "The Grey Album" might somehow transcend the legal issues.
With all the fanfare, I thought DM would feel obligated to serve us nothing less than the the finest steak. Instead, we got dry catfood.

DM may be on to something though. The whole concept of an individual getting a great idea and then beating the big guys to the punch with it-- I suspect we'll see more of that in the future.

commentson 28 February 2004 : 20:54, brent sez:

Reminder - Hip Hop is the culture not a musical genre. There are 4 basic elements of Hip Hop culture; DeeJaying, Mc'ing, Graffiti Art and Breaking. Go and watch Style Wars and Wild Style.

The "extremely sexist and violent" rap lyrics are largely a product of the business. Sex and violence sells, The major labels continue to push this content because it makes them money. I would argue that most of the MTV rubbish is not real Hip Hop music.

How much money has the industry made out of rap music in recent years? Non of this would have been possible without the pioneers in the 80’s and early 90’s who used uncleared samples extensively. The RIAA/business Will Eat Itself.

commentson 29 February 2004 : 00:08, Steve Rhodes sez:

I don't have time to track down all the links for this right now (I'll do it later this week), but there is an interesting compare and contrast.

Christian Markley did a piece similar to the Grey Album. He used the visuals of Blow Up and the sound from Blow Out and created a piece called Up and Out.

It was shown at the Whitney for a month in an installation and I saw it at SFMOMA a couple years ago. But because it was in high-art venues, Warner Brothers and MGM which own the rights to those films didn't threaten to sue.

Yet EMI goes after the websites exhibiting the Grey Album (which I haven't heard yet).

I thought Up and Out was an interesting experiment, but it was more about the idea than the execution in some ways. Still, I rented Blow Out on DVD after seeing it (Blow Up finally came out on the DVD recently).

commentson 22 March 2004 : 02:08, David Hodson sez:

Someone else (DJ Sureshot, I believe) said it best, "My mom paints, but she didn't make the paint." In the same way, what an artist does with the music they sample is what makes it. When I listened through 'The Grey Album' I got the impression of a distinctly new beast. It wasn't quiet the Beatles, it wasn't quiet Jay-Z, but it was a beautiful space in-between. I also think it made many younger folks look towards older music they hadn't truly appreciated. I grew up on the Beatles, and it was refreshing to me to see someone take something as classic as the White Album and do something new with it, add a modern flavor to it. I personally don't think that anyone involved should be mad. As for the Beatles, they'll probably get more sales 'cause youngins will be looking at The White Album, some for the first time. Jay-Z, well, he ain't starving and as for me I purchased a copy of the Black Album BEFORE I even heard of the Grey Album, and found the Grey Album to just be a nice compliment to an already great album. I think the Beatles need to relax a little bit, they already have it more than made.

commentson 18 December 2004 : 19:21, duke sez:

how is it that people who don't like hip hop, are the ones so free to say the grey album sucks? if you don't appreciate hip hop, of course you won't appreciate a hip hop experiment.

by the way, after i heard the grey album, i bought the white album

February 2005 - comments are closed on Thanks.