The beats on Jay-Z’s victory-lap Black Album were mostly negligible, and a few producers have unofficially replaced them with their own. The Grey Album, from Atlanta’s DJ Danger Mouse, is the most ambitious remix: All the music behind Hova is sampled from the Beatles’ White Album.
Of course it’s a gimmick, but about half of it works anyway. Sometimes Danger Mouse keeps things simple—”What More Can I Say” simply loops the first eight bars of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” whose single-note piano intro abruptly sounds like a thug classic. And sometimes he gets fancy, as with the splintered cutup of “Julia” that spatters “Dirt off Your Shoulder.” The Beatles’ tone-conscious arrangements pay off even as cross-sectional samples: At the risk of rockism, I’d say “Change Clothes” feels 40 times fresher over a sped-up harpsichord from “Piggies” and some Pro-Tooled Ringo than with the Neptunes’ dozy synths.
But The Grey Album is less a statement about the state of hip-hop production than proof that the right software can now make anything sound like it belongs with anything else. Suggestion for a sequel: Metallica’s Black Album and Joan Didion reading The White Album.