When Black Meets White, You Get Gray

The room is dark.  Neon lights illuminate images of bodiesin motion.  Girls and guys move to the music, laughing andjoking, even cheering when the DJ puts a hot new track on theturntable.  An all-time favorite for music lovers is when a DJlaces one artist’s lyrics over another artist’s beats.”Yo that’s the illest!” someone yells to a friendas Alicia Keys’ “U Don’t Know My Name”lyrics roll over G-Units “Poppin’ Them Thangs”hypnotic drum pattern.

While the hip-hop community embraces this formof “remixing” and appreciates the creativity of mixingone artist’s lyrics over a different artist’s music, one DJ hasfound himself in serious trouble for such practices.

DJ Danger Mouse recently released “TheGray Album” on the underground music scene.  Acompilation of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” lyricsand the Beatles’ classic “White Album” music,Danger Mouse’s creation has caused quite a stir.  EMIGroup, who owns the rights to the Beatles’ sound recordings,is treating what some critics consider musical ingenuity as aserious offense.

Because Danger Mouse did not get permission touse the rock band’s music before dubbing it with Hova’slyrics, EMI has ordered all record stores and e-Bay retailers to”cease and desist” the promotion and selling of DangerMouse’s record.

According to Glenn Otis Brown, the executivedirector of an online copyright-licensing group called CreativeCommons, there is a double standard in the music industry. Brown believes that record labels support remixing on theunderground scene, so long as the music is not to successful.

Local DJ Carlos DeLarosa, better known as DJHostility, claims that the real issue is who was involved inthe remix. Because the Beatles are a world-renowned white rockgroup, some may see mixing their music with the lyrics ofaward-winning hip-hop artist Jay-Z as less than complimentary.

In an interview with MTV.com, producer YoungGuru said that Roc-A-Fella released an a capella version of thealbum for the essential purpose of being remixed.  Thissupports DeLarosa’s viewpoint about the origins ofEMI’s complaint.

“People remix hip-hop albums all thetime.  But, it’s when you start [messing] with whiteboys that people get upset. Especially if [Danger Mouse] was makingmoney off of it,” said DeLarosa.

Up-and-coming hip-hop artist Adrien Pinksagrees.  “There’s a little bit of racism involved. Nobody wants a black guy over Beatles music. They’re anEnglish legend.”

“Mash-Up” albums, as they are bestknown, are indeed very popular. While DJ Danger Mouse is receivinga lot of heat for his creative album, others exist and are notreceiving nearly as much attention.

“Strictly For Dreads” is anexample of a Mash-Up album with the likes of Buju Banton rappingover Jay-Z’s “What More Can I Say,” and Mr. Vegasover Missy Elliott’s “Work It.”

“Nobody really cares because these areall black artists, plus this is all underground, so there’snot much money in it. If someone really tried to sue for royalties,it’d be a waste of their time,” said DeLarosa.

U Street’s Capital City Records carries”Strictly For Dreads” and even carried “The BrownAlbum,” a mash-up of Jay’s lyrics and deejay KevinBrown’s personal beats.  Owner Stephanie Stone said thatshe has had access to “The Gray Album” throughdistributors, but decided not to pick it up.

“I don’t think [the album] is thatgreat,” said Stone. “I like the regular versions of themusic anyway.”

Because the Danger Mouse fiasco has gained somuch public attention, Stone thinks that he should have gottenformal permission to sample the music, and should pay whatever thecost for damages.

The Boston Globe and RollingStone have given the album outstanding reviews, and copies ofthe album can be found on e-Bay at a going rate of $81.

Though Danger Mouse had a rough experiencewith the fine line between remixing and illegal sampling, local DJswill continue the art.

“Some Nas over some LinkinPark might behot,” said Pinks.