White and Black make Grey, not green
In yet another step in the fight to keep every solitary musical penny stuffed into the recording industry’s collective wallet, EMI, owners of the rights to the Fab Four’s legendary White Album, recently issued a cease-and-desist order to DJ Danger Mouse as a result of his use of the album on his newest promo record.
DJ Danger Mouse, an extremely talented underground hip hop DJ known for eclectic mixing and dressing up in a giant mouse suit, used some slice-and-dice sampling of The White Album as an atmospheric eccentricity of a backbeat for vocals-only copy of Jay-Z’s latest, The Black Album.
He calls it The Grey Album.
The album became infamous when DJ DM pressed 3,000 additional copies he sent out for promotional use — a little boy showing off his new toy, if you will.
EMI sent out the order to which record stores responded by pulling the album immediately, and the record execs were hoping Web sites and online music sharing mediums would do the same.
The strong-arm order sent file-sharers and artistic freedom Web sites nuts, prompting boycotts of EMI merch, a music downloading frenzy and sites such as the www.illegal-art.org site (created by Stay Free! Magazine), that uses the album as a chance to lobby for the freedom of artistic expression.
Sir Paul McCartney, an intensely innovative dabbler in everything from funk to disco to techno, has made musical history by breaking the rules and borrowing from the masters for creative purposes.
It’s time to step up in the name of artistic freedom, oh great one. Because when even The Beatles can’t be counted on to help push things forward, you know modern music is in trouble.
But, this practice of using the work of previous artists to broaden musical horizons is nothing new.
There would be no Jay-Z at all had the forefathers of the golden age of urban rhyme and rhythm — Eric B. and Rakim, Grandmaster Flash, Gangstarr, De La Soul, EPMD and countless others — not used beat sampling as the backbone for the creative conversing known as hip hop.
And just like so many innovative artists before him, DJ Danger Mouse is by no means affluent.
Needless to say, this man does not have the cash to secure the legal rights to use these songs. He makes a living while dressing like a big floppy rodent for God’s sake.
But he has something much more valuable than legal documents. He has the talent to wield The Beatles’ creative genius and turn it into something ridiculously innovative.
Now that’s something Paul and Ringo (and I’m assuming John and George from the great beyond) can be proud of.
So who is right here? Maybe the Stay Free! Web site put it best when it said, “The irony here couldn’t be more stark. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution, copyright was originally intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas but is now being used to stifle it.”
Then again, think about it this way: Where would the artistic world be today if it heeded the barkings of the money-grubbing super powers that tried to muzzle it?
Entertainment Editor Nick Margiasso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org