When DJ Dangermouse decided to combine raps from Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” with music from the Beatles’ legendary “White Album” to create “The Grey Album,” he didn’t have permission from either side to do it — and he didn’t care.
“I intended for it to be for friends and for people who knew my stuff. I figured it would get passed around, and it would be this little underground thing, but it kind of took off on its own,” said the music producer, born Brian Burton.
That’s an understatement. Although he only pressed up a few thousand copies on CD, it has become a hotly traded album on the Web, sparking the consternation of the Beatles’ parent label and an Internet protest in support of Dangermouse.
“This was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project,” the Los Angeles-based producer said.The ingenious album reconfigures the trippy Beatles rock to jibe with the Jay-Z’s rough acapella raps. It’s just the latest of countless unauthorized DJ mixes that have multiplied thanks to the power of the Internet.
“It’s a complete deconstruction and reconstruction,” says Dangermouse, who says he spent two weeks on the project.
Although Dangermouse says he created the “Grey Album” only for fans and friends, he did sell some copies to record stores and promote it on his Web site, www.djdangermouse.com.
Cease and desistJay-Z’s label, Roc-a-fella Records, didn’t take any action against Dangermouse. While Damon Dash, head of Roc-a-fella, told said that proper permission should have been obtained, he said, “I think it hot. It’s the Beatles. It’s two great legends together.”
But EMI, which owns the Beatles recordings, sent Burton a cease-and-desist order. “The DJ did not ask permission at any time — never approached us,” said Jeanne Meyer, senior vice president of corporate communications for EMI.
Not that Dangermouse could remove all the copies from the Internet, even if he wanted to.
The album’s profile may have gotten even bigger Tuesday, when the music activism site downhillbattle.org urged fans to post the music on Web sites for a day to protest EMI’s cease-and-desist order. Nicholas Reville, a co-founder of the site, says more than 150 sites have participated.
“What’s going on is that EMI is censoring a work of art,” he said. “Not only are they telling musicians the kind of music they can or cannot create, they’re trying to tell the public what we can and cannot listen to. We think EMI’s attempts to censor it and prevent the public from hearing it are a huge problem and we shouldn’t allow that kind of corporate censorship.”
However, Meyer said the issue was not about censorship, but copyright protection. She says EMI routine approves samples and remixed works (usually for a price).
“We’re not against sampling, We’re not against remixes, we’ve been really progressive in it,” she said. “The work is unauthorized, and people who are hosting it or are streaming it are being advised to stop.”
Burton, who has produced tracks for artists like the rapper Cee-Lo and released the album “Ghetto Pop Life” last year with artist Jemini on Lex Records, was not getting involved with the Internet protest. He says the real intent of creating the “Grey Album” wasn’t to protest copyright laws, but to create a musical dialogue between fans.
“I’m getting people like high school teachers using it as a lecture,” he says, adding that Beatles fans have become more appreciative of Jay-Z’s work, and vice versa.
“Their kids are asking for Beatles records now. I wanted to kind of have that be passed on to other people, that such radical things can really work.”