It’s been over ten years now since Danger Mouse’s notorious Grey Album—a brilliant full length CD that mashed up a capella tracks from Jay Z’s Black Album with remixes of Beatles songs from the White Album—became a cause celebre due to EMI’s attempt to suppress it over the unauthorized use of the Beatles’ material. That move Streisanded all over the place, turning the extremely limited underground release into one of the most-downloaded albums of 2004, one that went on to rank #1 in Entertainment Weekly‘s year end best-of list, and to show up in the Village Voice‘s Pazz and Jop list. It’s so typical—left alone, the album would have remained an insidery bit of DJ culture esoterica, but the effort to bury it instead brought the mashup phenomenon in remix culture to the mainstream.
Since then, many DJs have endeavored high-concept mashup albums, but most have fallen short of Danger Mouse. Hippocamp Collective and DJ BC put out at least three Beatles mashup albums between them, with varying levels of inspiration. A duo called The Silence Xperiment did an album called Q Unit, combining 50 Cent’s rapping with Queen remixes, which was pretty good, though the world had already known since Vanilla Ice that Queen’s grooves are sufficiently potent on their own that they need a special kind of suckage on top to make a lousy song out of them. There’ve even been mashup tributes to unlikely subjects like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and the practically ancient Australian entertainer/sex criminal Rolf Harris. (Actually, The Rolf Harris Mashup CD is beyond bonkers, and kinda totally rules.)
And still, ten years after Grey, contenders continue to appear. Someone using the name Aesop Waits released Tom Shall Pass this year, with remixed Tom Waits music beds underpinning vocal tracks from rapper Aesop Rock’s acclaimed 2007 album None Shall Pass, and I’ll be damned if it ain’t half bad at all. Since Waits’ old-timey rhythms and timbres don’t easily lend themselves to hip-hop treatment, the DJ here had to go to some effort to make this combination work, and to my reckoning, he (she?) did a good bit better than 50/50—the demented circus-falling-down-a-flight-of-stairs stylings of Waits’ music complements Aesop’s complex and impressionistic lyrics better than I’d have guessed. The best include “Reeperlawn,” “Undercomb Kids,” “Singapore Harbor is Yours,” “Knife Dance for the Whole Family,” and “Dark Heart of Istanbul.” (Each title is itself a mashup of the titles of the combined songs, if you didn’t catch that.) The tracks that fail are the ones that lean too heavily on extraneous drum loops, basically stomping all over the grooves inherent in the Waits samples, prompting wonder at what the point of even using them was in the first place.
Stream the entire “collaboration” after the jump…