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But Is It Music?

A look at mash-ups.

by Dr. Spin
July 11, 2005

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But Is It Music?

A while back, an aspiring DJ made a bold move. Mixing the Beatles legendary "White Album" with rapper Jay-Z's Black Album, DJ Danger Mouse created the controversial Grey Album. Essentially, the Grey Album takes the music of the Beatles (in the form of sound loops) and mixes them with the vocals (raps) of Jay-Z. DJ Danger Mouse initially released around 3,000 copies and immediately got into serious trouble. EMI and Sony, who both claim rights to the Beatles music (EMI owns the recordings, Sony owns the song rights), moved to stop distribution of the Grey Album immediately. The Grey Album is now the most infamous example of the newest musical phenomenon, "mash-ups."

While I had heard of the Grey Album for quite some time, I had never actually heard anything from it until I visited friends in California. They let me listen to not only DJ Danger Mouse, but also the "Beastles," a creation of DJ BC, blending the Beastie Boys with the Beatles. While I can respect the innovation of these DJs, my reaction to these mash-ups were (no pun intended) mixed. Some tunes blended better than others, and while they helped me appreciate rap artists a little better, as a Beatles fan, I couldn't help but feel like these mash-ups were a bit of blasphemy.

Still, these mash-ups did one thing all important music must do; it stuck with me. Perhaps it was my familiarity with the Beatles' tunes, but the blending of George Harrison's "Long, Long, Long" and Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement" make both all that more poignant. And

Mash-up is still an underground music, and most people doing mash-ups avoid legal hassles by releasing their work for free (a Google search for "mash-ups" will give you many sights with free downloads). Mash-ups are generally created by DJs, attempting to sample their abilities. While they usually mix rap and classic rock songs, mash-ups can use any two songs and sometimes use more than two original sources (one mash-up blended Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" with "Can't Stop the Rock" by Apollo 440, "Music" by Madonna, and "Nutbush City Limits" by Ike & Tina Turner).

Whether mash-ups still constitute "music" is up for debate. Clearly, they can't be considered "original" music, though well-crafted mash-ups obviously come from innovative minds (And clever titles, such as "Take Your Mama Fighting," a mix of "Take Your Mama Dancing" by Scissor Sisters and Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"). Would the Beatles approve of the Grey Album? I believe they would. Ultimately, mash-ups can be a fun new way to "hear" old classics. We will know mash-up have truly become an art form when the Grammys create their "Best Mash-up" category.

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