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“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.”
The Grey Album is a mashup of Jay-Z’s "The Black Album"::http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Album_(Jay-Z_album) and The Beatles’ eponymous album, The Beatles. It spread quickly through the internet and subsequently caused controversy about the relationship between copyright and music.
Source: The Black Album
The Black Album is Jay-Z’s eighth studio album, released in 2003. It well known for the hits, Dirt off Your Shoulder, 99 Problems, and to a lesser extent- Change Clothes. An a capella version of the album was also released, providing fuel for mash-ups and remixes. Early attempts at remixing the album include The Brown Album by Kev Brown, but Danger Mouse’s remix would soon become the most famous.
The Grey Album
Although initially it was only distributed to a few internet outlets, the album, popularized through file-sharing websites and word-of-mouth, was soon being downloaded by people all across the internet. Its popularity increased after it was reported on by major networks and websites (including The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly).
The album received critical acclaim by many music reviewing sites and news outlets, and was also referenced by celebrities like Stephen Colbert, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Radiohead. As a result of the album’s popularity, the album inspired many, many other amateur musicians to create their own remixes of The Black Album online through file hosting sites, Youtube, and bitTorrent.
Other examples include:
- DJ Snoyl – The Black Album Remixes
- Doug Lazy – The Purple Album
- Bash Brothers – The Black Chronic
- DJ Lt. Dan – Back to Basics
- Kardinal Offishall and Solitair – The Black Keys Album
- DJ-N-Wee – The Slack Album
…along with remixes from many other more well-known, professional producers including 9th Wonder, RJD2, and MF DOOM (simply known now as DOOM). A larger (but not necessarily complete) list can be found here.
One website went even further, and created The Jay-Z Construction Set which provides a downloadable application (through bitTorrent) that allows anyone to make their own Black Album remixes.
Its also possible that the Collision Course album (mashups of Linkin Park and Jay-Z songs) was inspired by the Grey Album.
As one can see using Google Insights, the mash-up internet phenomenon also picks up near the same time the Grey Album does.
The a cappela version of The Black Album was, of course, intended to inspire remixes and mash-ups. The Beatles’ White Album was not, however. In addition, EMI is infamous for their overprotective control over The Beatles’ music. Although EMI eventually backed down (probably because Damon Albarn hired Danger Mouse to produce Demon Days by Gorillaz), initially there was a lot of tension.
On February 18, 2004- Downhill Battle announced that they would lead a coordinated electronic civil disobedience event on February 24, 2004. In this Grey Tuesday, Downhill Battle offered free copies of The Grey Album on its website and on other participating websites. They felt that “sampling was fair usage and that a statutory license should be provided in the same manner as if a song had been covered.”
Although many would feel this is a fair argument- as sampling in Hip-Hop is not new, sampling The Beatles is very risky. EMI has never been very flexible about their rights over The Beatles’ music.
Regardless, about 300 websites uploaded the album for free downloading, and hundreds more participated in the event. The Grey Album was downloaded more than 100,000 times on that day (more than a million tracks downloaded). EMI filed cease and desist orders, but eventually gave up.
The official “Grey Tueday” website was Greytuesday.org, but is now defunct. A Web Archive is here.
More Black Album remix examples
- 99 Problems (Tee Remix)
- Encore (Clean Remix)
- Jay-Z – What More Can I Say (Purple Album Remix)
- Pete Rock Jay-Z Black Album Remix
The Grey Album
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