This month, Jay Z’s “retirement” album The Black Album turned 10 years old. While it’s historic for being a lavish (third) retirement album, arguably its greatest impact was ushering in the era of the underground remix album. Bridging the gap between the initial mash-up craze of 2003 that gave us this, and the decade of gimmick-y concept remix albums to follow, the choice to release Jay Z’s entire album’s acapella wound up being among music’s biggest game-changing choices of the decade. Now that we’ve had 10 years to marinate on all of them, we’ve made out decision on the five best.
See also: No One Cares About Jay-Z’s New Music
5) 9th Wonder – Black is Back
The only producer actually featured on The Black Album to release a remix album, 9th Wonder’s Black is Back project gives a unique view as to how Jay’s album would have sounded if left entirely to just one producer. As great as the original album’s version of “Threat” was, 9th Wonder’s take on “4th December” rivals the track’s wistful resonance with a beat that eventually went to Young Buck on “The City.”
4) DJ Lt. Dan – The Black Album Remixes
The very first full-length Black Album remix to hit the streets was DJ Lt. Dan’s The Black Album Remixes. Dan somehow acquired the album’s vocal tracks early and went right to work blending them with boom bap classics, giving fans buying The Black Album, on the very day it came out, something to immediately supplement it with. An additional effect of The Black Album Remixes is re-contextualizing Jay’s verses in the soundscape of undisputed New York classics, putting his legacy in his New York’s hip-hop family tree in perspective.
3) Kev Brown – The Brown Album
Probably the second most famous Black Album-mythology story comes from Kev Brown’s The Brown Album. Originally, Kev wasn’t going to remix Jay’s “final” album, anticipating absolutely everybody would be doing it. Finally deciding to just pair some unused beats with the vocals, he couldn’t match anything exactly with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder’s” odd tempo. He ultimately composed an original beat, performing the hook by himself to get the melody perfect. From there he went all the way and what resulted is a remix album that still bumps.
See also: Six Rare Early Jay-Z Appearances
2) DJ Bazooka Joe – The Silver Album (Jay Z vs. RJD2)
While Jay Z was the undisputed king of rap’s mainstream in 2003, underground hip-hop’s top producer was Definitive Jux’s secret weapon RJD2. At a time when his innovative and galvanizing beats were lacing everyone from Aceyalone to Aesop Rock to Massive Attack, his catalog had become as diverse as it was consistent. DJ Bazooka Joe contacted independent hip-hop online megastore Sandbox Automatic to get RJ’s blessing for his blend masterpiece The Silver Album. Probably the greatest strength of The Silver Album is how it changes the entire vibe of Jay’s retirement. While the retail is something of Jay’s victory lap, RJ’s unsettling erratic grooves makes Jay’s bowing out seem paranoid and reluctant. Like all great remixes, it reveals new aspects of the verses that allow both it and its source material to be deeper appreciated.
1) Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
Of course you knew this had to be number one, right? The project that not only took Danger Mouse from that guy who made the surprisingly dope underground comeback album for Jemini to the superstar that’s one-half of Gnarls Barkley, it began a revolution that put questions of copyright and intellectual property in the era of a dying music industry into mainstream headlines. Beyond its sheer importance to the shaping of modern music, The Grey Album is also an impressive concept that saw The Beatles’ White Album cut-up and reassembled to accommodate Jay-Z’s retirement to a dizzying degree that somehow remained faithful to both artists’ visions. While a Noah’s Ark of upstart remix artists followed, inspired by Danger Mouse to remix The Black Album with everything from Weezer to Radiohead, none have quite matched Danger Mouse’s success.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 25, 2013