brian on 2004.02.20
at 01:08 am
If you haven't heard, the biggest thing in Hip Hop right now is "The Grey Album," a remix of Jay-Z's "The Black Album" a cappella vocals over top of DJ Danger Mouse's amazing remix of The Beatles (yes, The Beatles) "The White Album." I finally found the work last night and downloaded it. Very interesting, even if Hip Hop isn't your main genre.
Now, you'll notice that I downloaded it, and didn't buy it. That's because I can't buy it, it's not for sale. It's a free work of art. That works like this: Jay-Z and his producers decided to release a version of his final album, with out any of the instrumentals, allowing others to remix the work. Since that, there have been a few notable releases, for example, "The Brown Album," which remixes Jay over top of jazz samples. I hear its very good (its next on my find list).
DJ DangerMouse wanted to remix Jay-Z, using nothing but samples derived from perhaps the most famous album of all time. What you may not know is that now a days, you must pay a royalty to anyone you sample in a remix or Hip Hop tune. A far cry from the early, ground breaking work of the Beastie Boys in "Paul's Boutique." Such an album simply could not be made today, as the licensing fees would be astronomical. This is why "The Grey Album" was released on the Internet, without any direct benefit to DJ DM. He couldn't possibly afford to license those samples, so he didn't attempt to make a profit from it. It's not unlike a band playing a cover tune. An example, if the Dave Matthews Band plays "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan in concert, they don't have to pay a royalty (in my understanding) since they're not advertising that they're playing someone else's music, and are only covering one of his songs. This isn't the sole reason, or even a major fact as to why someone would buy a ticket to see them play. Hence, they don't owe a royalty. However, if they want to include that same song on their latest live album, the same song would need to have royalties since the album is selling his song as part of the advertised product.
Now in this case, DJ DM isn't making any money (he's certainly upping his recognition, though, but he could have done that by covering Ricky Martin in an American Idol audition, too, while not paying a royalty) on the work of The Beatles. He is doing a few other things, that have positive economic benefits. First of all, I don't know of many Hip Hop fans who regularly listen to the Beatles. This promotes their work in a less penetrated market, makes them current to a younger generation. Secondly, it spreads the work of Jay-Z to people who might not have even bought (or even listened to) any Jay-Z album, who simply can't believe, and must listen for themselves to, a Hip Hop album built masterfully upon a rock 'n' roll standard.
I find myself in the second group. I've always felt that Jay Z was a talented lyricist, although I don't necessarily care much for boastfulness, so I never invested much in him as an artist, per se. I had respect for him as a performer. Now, having listened to his words, I now know he has something to say (along side the token "bitches" and "ho's" "playas" "coca" "hustlers" etc.) , and I very well may invest in some of his work, most of all, ""The Black Album," since I now want to hear the original. I want to know what the hell HOVA stands for (yeah, I've heard the song, but I never listened closely enough to know that it serves as an AKA for him).
Why do we still listen to the music of the 1600's, 1800's? Because the music of Beethoven, Bach, Holst lives on because its constantly replayed and reinterpreted by modern orchestras and conductors. "Borrowing from another artwork--as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s--will now land you in court." (quote from Illegal Art's site) However, most things in the 1900s will not receive the same immortality. They will perish due to the fatal repression of today's constrictive copyright. Most artists get their inspiration from other artists. A classic quote is "Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal."
The Grey Album is great art.
EMI is cracking down on the free distribution of this work. Grey Tuesday is a day of civil disobedience, February 24, 2004, where many websites will ban together to distribute the album in a sign of solidarity against short-sighted, artistically-asphyxiating copyrights. Join in. Get your copy at (aptly named) Illegal Art. Enjoy. Support art. Support artistic freedom.
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