the five years since Danger Mouse’s Grey Album CD was removed from stores via a cease-and-desist order from EMI Music’s legal department, the project has grown to mythic proportions.
While most have never heard the album that remixes The Beatles’ White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album, Rolling Stone, GQ and bloggers galore have praised the effort, crafted by the same guy who brought us Gnarls Barkley and Gorrillaz.
In reality, The Grey Album comes off as little more than a novelty. As do the Internet-distributed free mixtapes that remix Jay-Z’s vocals with Oasis, Colplay and, yes, Elvis (feel free to cringe now).
Despite the fact that this road had been traveled before by so many other beatmakers, New York’s Max Tannone (who works under the moniker Minty Fresh Beats) released Jaydiohead, a remix project built on the verses of Jay’s two latest albums, and a smattering of Radiohead samples.
Listen to the album here.
What sets this work apart is Tannone’s decision to work with Jay’s deeper catalog, the verses that go beyond big sing-along hooks made for radio play and cut into the rapper’s experiences in overcoming poverty and forming his worldview. The subject matter, noticeably dark, determined and at times brooding, fits well with the eerie soundscape Radiohead is known for.
According to Tannone, the inspiration for Jaydiohead came because the two artists represented different sides of the human experience. “Radiohead brings intense realism, touches of paranoia, sometimes dread, punctuated by moments of amazing beauty,” he says. “Jay-Z on the other hand, is like this untouchable superhero. He won’t lose, he can’t lose and he will roll over anyone in his path. That kind of confidence is inspiring, and I wanted to mix that with Radiohead vibe.”
Whether or not it was Tannone’s intention, the remix ultimately makes Jay-Z’s “superhero” persona much more accessible. When stripped of their million-dollar beats, the stories of growing up poor and finding a dogged determination to overcome sound much more like the struggles of the everyman in a down economy than the boasts of one of the world’s richest entertainers.
The down-tempo also helps highlight the spiritual side of Jay-Z, which Tannone plays to on “Lucifer’s Jigsaw,” in which the Brooklyn rapper laments the loss of a good friend, and asks God to take away his desire for revenge, while instrumental cuts from Radiohead’s “Jigsaws Fall Into Place” provide a dreary, funeral-like atmosphere to complete the picture. Jay goes on to mourn the lost of his father to liver disease, and recalls worrying about how to get his mother out of poverty. Later, he flips the script and combines Jay-Z’s over-the-top hubris in a party rhyme with Thom York’s piercing croon from “Gagging Order” to equal effect. With each new verse, the raps lay flawlessly into the remixed beats created by Tannone, still maintaining a distinct Radiohead flavor. Which is what sets this project apart as the only mash-up in recent memory that’s actually enjoyable. Tannone’s careful hand avoids the dark side of remix projects—moments when the song sounds like two YouTube videos playing simultaneously out of one set of speakers.
The release of Jaydiohead also signifies an age of music where the fans are in control. When even the world’s biggest “superstars” are suffering from sales slumps, Radiohead’s In Rainbows debuted at number one on iTunes even after fans had the option of downloading it for free from their website. According to Tannone, who made Jaydiohead available as a free download to promote his production business, the remix has cross-pollinated the fanbases of both artists.
“When I put Jaydiohead out, I got messages from a lot of Radiohead fans explaining how they really listened to Jay’s lyrics, something they didn’t do before,” Tannone says. “I’ve always been a defender of Jay-Z, his rhymes are much deeper and cinematic than they appear on the surface. Of course, he does make party songs, but for every party song there are several introspective, more serious tracks. Conversely, I’ve received messages from Jay-Z fans telling me how amped they are to check out Radiohead material. When I began receiving these messages, I considered the project a success.”