Noah kindly asked me to list some of the mash-ups we like to listen to over at Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k) and Newswire as part of the copyright roundtable. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive history, nor an exhaustive list, nor anything more than some of the form’s developmental high-water marks cribbed from Wikipedia’s Bastard Pop article and our personal preferences.
There was a time when mashups and audio art required relatively expensive and rare control rooms, a razor blade to cut recording tape montages together, and multi-track machines to lay them over one another. Frank Zappa borrowed from Edgard Varese‘s musique concrete. John Oswald examined the power of rock ‘n roll and preaching — later he would prove a dab hand at deconstructing a king’s pop.
In the digital age, the means of audio production became cheaper and more accessible with each passing year. By the late 1980s, hip-hop artists looped and dropped samples into their tracks with little difficulty, producing masterworks: De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising, Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, and Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. But the constant roar of James Brown’s repeated screams came to a halt in a shitstorm of lawyers and bills for sampling rights.
Click to play video: Negativland – U2
Negativland’s struggles defending the U2 sound-collage EP from the band U2 itself and its label define the difficult intersection of art and commerce, fair-use and copyright, parody and trademark. Happily, everyone involved eventually got over it.
Turns out that, if you are going to do this thing legit and clear the samples (and make money), you end up with weak raps over one monotonous bit of a song performed by one of music’s least-deserving billionaires. Goofy and tame sci-fi football chants also perch atop the charts. The worthwhile and entertaining experiments in laying bits of songs over one another have mostly moved underground.
Here is the promised list of mashups we think you might enjoy.
- Click to play video: Danger Mouse: Encore
DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album — Wikipedia said this “effectively launched a new pop subgenre,” and who am I to argue. Extensive legal wrangling followed the release of this mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles White Album, leading to the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s involvement. That the BitTorrent of the work remains actively promoted and available proves it is possible to stare down major record labels over fair-use issues. Wikipedia gives it to us straight from the Mouse’s mouth:
“A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it’s really a deconstruction. It’s not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that’s all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn’t think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn’t have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that.”
- Click to play video: djbc – Root Down Reprise
djbc: The Boston Mash-up Project — Detroit Metro Times called Let it Beast one of 2004’s best albums. You may get the impression that mashup practitioners only pick on The Beatles, but djbc rotates an selections of his work on his Web site, and other examples can be found on YouTube.
- Click to play video: Girl Talk – Still Here
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals — Massively dense sampling which would cost $10 bazillion to clear. A fever dream. Poor Mojo editor David Erik Nelson: “Feed the Animals is the soundtrack to every 90s midwestern bar mitzvah ever played, simultaneously. There is genius there.”
- Click to play video: Jay-Zeezer – 99 Problems with Buddy Holly
Jay-Zeezer, The Black and Blue Album — How can you not love it when the creator of one of the most clever rock/rap mashups turns out to be an outsider? To wit: “I’d like to get something out in the open right away. I am completely clueless when it comes to rap music.” Technology, breaking down cultural barriers faster than programmers and corporations can repair them. The site details how “Mike” built the songs from Jay-Z’s a capella construction set and Weezer tracks on his PC.
- Click to play video: The Kleptones Live @ Bestival 2007
The Kleptones: From Detroit To J.A.; Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be; 24 Hours; Uptime Downtime; A Night at the Hip-Hopera and oh, my God there’s even more. Listen to all of it, you will be happy you did. Read this while you do.
- ill chemist: Cracked Pepper – You’ll have to torrent this very lovely and highly layered mash note to the Mop Tops and pop music in general. This is one Apple Corps. seems to be having more luck at suppressing.
- Click to play: Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles – Criminology
Wu Tang Clan vs. The Beatles: Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers — David Erik Nelson’s assessment: “The Wu Tang vs. Beatles album is excellent, both musically, and as a sort of essay on the development of fame and cult of personality (they make extensive use of interview and news footage).”
Now that the form, post-Danger Mouse, has solidified, mashups are mutating. Poor Mojo editor Morgan Johnson asked me to add, and this is apropos the final selection: “Honestly, with the whole remix culture thing, the line between remix and mashup has become terribly thin. Look at the Popular tab on Hype Machine, usually 50% of this most downloaded or listened to songs are remix/mashups.”
- Click to play video: Rx – Who’s tha nigga?
Click to play video: Rx – Dick is a Killer
Okay, these aren’t strictly mashups, but they certainly are détournement, and catchy. Rx enjoys creating videos to accompany his quick-cut slight-of-ear pieces in which he compels public figures to sing the hits by chopping up public-domain and news audio. I think we can all agree that we just dig hearing Pres. George W. Bush take drugs and swear a lot. See also: The Gregory Brothers “Auto-Tune the News” series.