This week I’m going to ramble on at length, which is something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Don’t head for the exits yet, though. I’ll be breaking up my pontificating with plenty of damn fine musicks to help ease the load.
I’ve got mashups on my mind. Bootleg mixes. Bastard pop. It’s all the same thing. Artist A meets Artist B (and sometimes, Artists C-Z) through the matchmaking skills of a mashup artist. In my mind, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as the sound of two tracks playing off each other in unexpected ways. Where else but in the overactive imagination of a mashup artist could you find Jay-Z rapping over White Album loops? Or the Beastie Boys unleashing their mighty whitey power over the primordial breakbeats of the Prodigy? Or Ludacris calling out haters and hangers-on while riding a reggaeton beat and a chorus of “Role!”?
But mashups, despite their ability to create something fresh from something overplayed (exception: anything using Flo Rida’s Low. Never again. Please.), catch all kinds of shit from a variety of people.
First and foremost in their hatred of mashups (and mashup artists) are the record labels. They feel this is “infringement” at best and outright theft at worst. They issue takedown notices and cease-and-desist letters. They have no genuine concern for the artist’s music. After all, they know that mashup artists aren’t cutting into their sales, and even if they are, the bootleggers know that they can’t possibly sell this. It’s not really theirs. The end result is, but the pieces are not.
So, as long as the mashup artists play by the rules, the labels tolerate their existence. DJ Dangermouse caught legal hell when he released The Grey Album, a full-length mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. Pretty much rule #1 in the music business is Do Not Fuck with the Beatles. Apple Records has all this screwed down tight. Hell, they sued Apple Computer for daring to use the same piece of fruit in their logo. They own the library of the biggest cash cow in the business and retain a very expensive team of lawyers.
Their rights holders shut him down. But this is the motherfuckin’ internet so Dangermouse’s album was mirrored everywhere. Everyone agreed to disagree and history was made.
So that’s one angle. The labels are still trying to figure out how to sue them properly, without getting tangled up in the sticky threads of “Fair Use.” It’s also the ugly tendency of major labels to confuse “art” with “product” and see how much cash they can extract from someone who’s doing a ton of free promotion for their artists.
And then you have this attitude, which crops up during discussions of “derivative art”:
I’m more than familiar with mash-ups. It’s a cute novelty. I’ve yet to hear one whose sum is better than its parts.
And considering all the musical hooks in these things were written by other people, shouldn’t those other people be credited as co-writers?
Condescension. Dismissiveness. And of course, a little concern tossed in the general direction of the poor artists, who are apparently getting screwed by the remixers.
Or there’s this take:
For me, it’s the biggest damnation of “current culture” because they have stopped being truly creative and settled for second best recycling. They no longer are impressed by a great painting, but they are impressed with the guy sweeping up the studio once the artist left.
Much like anyone who declares the internet to be full of crap, this casual dismissal of mashups/artists tends to demonstrate the mindset of the dismisser, rather than slander the mashup artists.
Generally, the person making this statement has already drawn a mental line clearly delineating between what is Good Music and what isn’t. It’s usually drawn at a certain point in time (like 1977) but is sometimes deployed along genre boundaries (rap, techno and country get harshed a lot). It is stasis trapped in the eye of the beholder.
An insistence that one form of music is superior to another form is ridiculous.
Or they just get it completely wrong with a stretched metaphor that fits about as well as a baby doll tee on a “World’s Biggest Loser” contestant:
It doesn’t take away the fact that they’re building on other people’s work. It’s like me building a second story over your house, while you still live there.
But it isn’t. It isn’t like that at all. Only someone with a pre-defined idea of what Music Should Be would confuse Girl Talk’s track with simplistic A+B arithmetic. No. It’s like this (quoting me):
It’s someone borrowing your window and someone else’s door and the front walk from your mutual neighbor and a mailbox from the guy across the street who’s always stealing your newspaper and stealing that newspaper back along with some decent shrubbery and using the same paint color as the corner house and the shingles of the house behind you and the garage doors from two blocks away and the naked cherub fountain from the courthouse and the stern street number font of the cop shop and the spiral staircase from that one movie you saw and the exit signs from the local theater and the car seats from the soccer mom’s minivan and that stoner’s stereo and mom’s couch and grandma’s collector’s plates and Uncle Jim’s junked Olds and the 12th hole green from the nearest golf course and all the ideas of a meth-addled feng shui consultant and some ideas from your local architect as improved on by your 4-year-old’s idea of what a real house looks like viewed through a combination 3-D glasses/kaleidescope.
That’s what it’s like:
(Girl Talk – “Jump on Stage” sample list)
- 0:00 – 1:08 Portishead – “Sour Times” (portion sampled samples “Danube Incident” by Lalo Schifrin)
- 0:01 – 0:08 Miley Cyrus – “Party in the U.S.A.”
- 0:08 – 0:09 Naughty by Nature – “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
- 0:09 – 1:23 Big Boi featuring Cutty – “Shutterbugg”
- 0:10 – 1:08 Amerie – “Why R U”
- 1:09 – 2:41 Talking Heads – “Take Me to the River”
- 1:14 – 1:23 Ice Cube – “We Be Clubbin'”
- 1:14 – 1:27 V.I.C. – “Wobble”
- 1:15 – 1:25 50 Cent – “Get Up”
- 1:16 – 1:28 Diddy featuring Christina Aguilera – “Tell Me”
- 1:18 – 1:33 The Edgar Winter Group – “Frankenstein”
- 1:31 – 1:33 50 Cent – “Disco Inferno”
- 1:33 – 2:41 Skee-Lo – “I Wish”
- 1:34 – 2:17 The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize”
- 1:43 – 2:46 T’Pau – “Heart and Soul”
- 2:46 – 2:46 Janet Jackson – “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
- 2:42 – 3:08 Jadakiss featuring Swizz Beatz and OJ Da Juiceman – “Who’s Real”
- 2:50 – 2:51 New Edition – “If It Isn’t Love”
- 2:52 – 4:26 Radiohead – “Creep”
- 3:04 – 4:10 Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
- 3:09 – 3:11 Public Enemy – “Public Enemy No. 1″
- 3:51 – 4:08 Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill a Man”
- 4:20 – 4:30 Busta Rhymes – “Dangerous”
- 4:25 – 5:03 Prince – “Delirious”
- 4:30 – 5:13 Master P featuring 5th Ward Weebie and Krazy – “Rock It”
- 5:08 – 5:08 Prince & the New Power Generation – “Gett Off”
- 5:09 – 6:22 Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life”
- 5:09 – 6:17 Beastie Boys – “Hey Ladies”
- 5:15 – 5:17 White Town – “Your Woman”
- 5:18 – 6:22 Lady GaGa – “LoveGame”
And then this collective asks you to move out because you’re harshing everyone’s mellow with your lack of ideas.
A good mashup is more than the sum of its parts. Those “affected” by it would do well to remember that every new generation of anything builds on the previous one. Art isn’t created in a vacuum. And I guarantee that if you locked McCartney, Starr and Jay-Z into a room they wouldn’t come up with anything nearly as visceral or engaging as The Grey Album. I can see Jay-Z doing something close on his own but the other two are so hampered by their own images that they wouldn’t be able to make the mental leap needed to produce something this bold.
This guy is a musician like cheerleadering is a sport.
Fuck you. You’re like a guy in his mid-20s who still cruises the main drag wearing his letter jacket. Music moved on and you stayed in the same place.
Take, for instance, the last few moments of Girl Talk’s Jump on Stage where Greg Gillis combines the Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop to devastating effect. Separately, the tunes (Hey Ladies, Lust for Life) are familiar crowd-pleasers. I like the two tracks involved but have heard them enough in my lifetime to not go out of my way to hear them again. Together, though, they’re a masterful match, with Iggy Pop’s rhythm section toughening up the nasal rap styling of three Jewish kids from the Bronx.
It’s like hearing an old favorite for the first time again. It’s that kind of impossibility that makes the perfect mashup one of those rare things that can give you a childlike feeling of amazement. I’m in my mid-30s. Anything that makes me feel like a kid again is welcome. Anything that kicks years of cynicism to the curb for a few minutes is deeply appreciated.
If you can’t see past the obvious addition of the components and enjoy the whole as its own being, then I truly feel for you. You must have no joy in your life. Everything that could be appreciated as something of its own has been broken down and compartmentalized into nothing more than a parts list for product.
If it is your belief that no talent lies in the remixer then why would you check out the culinary talents of various chefs? In the end, they’re just making small variations on meat and vegetables. They might be able to coax out flavors and textures you haven’t had before, but most of the work is still being done by the animal or vegetable itself.
Why watch any sequels or remakes? Why read any books that come in a series or feature the same characters? Why visit an art gallery? Everything in there is based on pre-existing styles and schools. Why would you single out mashups as the nadir of culture?
It can only be one of two things: an absolute belief that the best period of music is already behind us or that mashups are glorified theft and nothing more than punishable infringement. Both views are equally close-minded. Only one is potentially dangerous.
If you want to believe the best days of music are behind us, you’re only robbing yourself of new experiences. The second belief is a particularly vindictive form of projection in which your overreaching entitlement has given you the ability to see villains in every doorway and leaking dollars pouring out of every mp3. Unfortunately, the second belief is entertained all too frequently. If unchecked, it could truly bring about the end of creativity. And as the life ebbs from the art form you claim to love so much you can’t bear to see it hurt by freeloaders and infringers, you’ll be too blinded by your myopia to realize the blood is on your hands.
One for the road:
- The Beatles – Come Together
- Dezo – Y’all Know What It Iz
- Lil Wayne – Best Rapper Alive
- Beastie Boys – No Sleep till Brooklyn
- Breakwater – Release The Beast
- Rare Earth – I Just Want to Celebrate
- Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure
- Cypress Hill – Insane in the Brain
- John Lennon – Power to the People
- Boston – More Than a Feeling
- Freeez – I.O.U.
- Criminal Element Orchestra – Put The Needle to the Record
- Art of Noise – Close (to the Edit)
- S’Express – Theme from S’Express
Best of Bootie Compilations
The Hood Internet
Go Home Productions