I’ve been a fan of hip hop off and on since the 80s and the genre seems to work in fits and spurts. In between years of greatness you get years of the same old thing. In 1986 it was one single after another from LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, and Big Daddy Kane all boasting who had the biggest dick and got the most girls. Then De La Soul, Public Enemy, and NWA came along and showed us you could rap about other aspects of life and change the sound of music in the process. In the early 90’s we had a rash of gangsta rap that never seemed to end, though Tupac and Snoop Dogg were highlights. These days hip hop seems to be all about the bling and it’s gotten boring once again. I know Jay Z’s just as guilty in that regard for bringing Big Pimpin’ to the big time, but I have to say The Grey Album is the first interesting hip hop project I’ve heard in a while. The Black Album it is based on is ok, and although the pairing with White Album samples sounds like a gimmick at first, the final output transcends it all. I’ve been listening to it for weeks and I can’t put it down. I can tell it’s going to be a classic I’ll be listening to for years.
Which brings me to the complete illegality of the project. It’s most definitely illegal art and although I can’t defend DJ Dangermouse for trying to sell 3,000 copies, I don’t see a problem with the mere act of having the music, playing the music, or sharing it with friends in a non-commercial context. The very concept of illegal art is absurd. The illegal art site is a great source for previous work by those bluring the lines of art with trademark and copyright and points out the problems of over-reaching intellectual property laws. A turntablist looking to make a buck certainly should do whatever is necessary before making a remix, but if profit isn’t the goal, I can’t see a problem building new music from previous samples with or without permission. Remix-ready vocal-only versions of The Black Album were released by Jay Z for a reason, and The Grey Album is best product of the remixes that have followed the original album’s release.
It’s in that vein that
I share the Grey Album today with you today. I’m in no way benefiting financially from it. DJ Dangermouse doesn’t make more money from it. Jay Z doesn’t make or lose a dollar as a result. The Beatles don’t lose money when these songs play. But every one of us that gets a listen benefits in an intangible way. The rightsholders of the Beatles music want these files to go away, but it’s the most compelling hip hop album of the last few years and deserves to be shared with others, not silenced (at least for the next 24 hours).