Several ambitious hip-hop producers have taken it upon themselves to remix Jay-Z's recent Black Album with their own beats in the past few months, yet none of the projects have been as creative and intriguing as Danger Mouse's Grey Album. The color-coded concept finds Jay-Z's lyrical mind-bursts on top of newly constructed beats culled entirely from The Beatles' self-titled, far-ranging 1968 opus commonly referred to as the White Album.
And, although you'd be hard pressed to procure this copyright-infringing album in record stores, it can be tracked down on certain big-city street corners.
For the work of a guy who is known for clowning around in a fluffy, full-body mouse costume, the Grey Album is anything but a goofy novelty act. As an up-and-coming West Coast beat miner who produced one of last year's most exciting hip-hop albums, Ghetto Pop Life, DM doesn't just throw Jay-Z's vocals over songs like "Blackbird" all willy-nilly. Each of the 12 tracks on the Grey Album is finely tuned the precision cut-and-paste sampling DM exhibits is often mind-blowing.
Swiping the best drum and instrumental breaks from the White Album, the producer consistently turns out head-banging beats, sometimes even trumping their Black Album counterparts.
On "Justify My Thug," DJ Quik's original gangsta-thumping, disco beat is replaced with a rat-a-tat snare-based track that includes a few spare acoustic guitar chords taken from the intro to Paul McCartney's Old West farce "Rocky Raccoon." Although there is no logical reason for this newfangled, Beatle-fied "Justify My Thug" to work, it does. Brilliantly.
Another stand-out is "Public Service Announcement." The Black Album version is a straight banger of the highest order sky-high organ licks play off a grimy bass line as Jay-Z boasts, "I'm like Ché Guevera with bling on, I'm complex." DM takes away nearly all of the original's chest-pumping bombast by coupling it with a sample based on one of the White Album's quietest songs, the yearning "Long, Long, Long." Along with some smoothly insulated bass kicks, the sample brings the song back to earth and manages to turn Jay-Z's pomposity into straight-from-the-heart sincerity. Now, Jay-Z's elusive hubris bubbles to the top, and lines like "I ain't invent the game/ I just rolled the dice/ Trying to get some change" are born anew.
Other great pairings include the uppity, tea-time melody from "Piggies" backing up Jay-Z's ode to fashion and the whole bling-bling thing on the revamped "Change Clothes," and a whirlwind of hard-hitting drum and distorted guitar breaks from the blistering "Helter Skelter" taking the place of Rick Rubin's '80s rap-rock throwback beat on "99 Problems."
A few backing tracks, such as the bass-throbbing "December 4th" redo, miss the mark due to overly repetitious sampling, but DM adds an enticing new sonic layer to nearly every song on the Black Album with a little help from the greatest rock band that ever was.