Jay-Z | The Black Album (Def Jam)

The White Albulum suits shoes better than tires, and those who prefer block trooping will appreciate it.

 

In the rap world, a typical 12-inch single will have several versions of a song per side. Most records offer a clean version, a dirty version, an instrumental version, and sometimes a cappella. In 2002, an up and coming producer named 9th Wonder (of North Carolina–based Little Brother) turned heads with a completely remixed version of Nas’s God’s Son. The project was called God’s Stepson, and was a welcome alternative to the original. 9th Wonder got enough press from God’s Stepson (and the critically acclaimed Little Brother debut, The Listening) to land one of his beats on Jay-Z’s The Black Album. After the industry took note of the power of the remix, somebody at Def Jam got the brilliant idea to sell a cappella versions of The Black Album instead of giving them out as promos, and move a few more units accordingly. With the a cappellas readily available, every bedroom producer on the planet went to work. The selections here are the biggest, one of the lesser-known best, and some of the locals.

Danger Mouse had the brilliant idea to digitally chop up the Beatles’ classic White Album as his beat fodder and produce The Gray Album. Not only did he produce a very interesting piece of work, he also summoned the legendary wrath of the recording industry, who quickly and loudly sent out an unreasonable number of cease and desist letters to all vendors with The Gray Album. Needless to say, Danger Mouse is now a household name among savvy music fans. His remixes aim for the growing contingent of people who are too hip to not like rap, and will be easily amused by the kitsch value of “What More Can I Say” over “Still My Guitar Gently Weeps.” (Purists will be annoyed, as they were when Tupac rapped over Bruce Hornsby.) Danger Mouse shines when not jacking obvious loops, and his busy, chop-happy renditions of “Dirt off Your Shoulder” and “Moment of Clarity” are especially nice. Others, such as “Allure,” make nice beats, but feel forced on the lyrics they back.

Kno, an Atlanta-based producer from underground rap mainstays Cunninglinguists, avoided gimmicks and stuck to his crate-digging principles. The White Albulum [sic] showcases Kno’s ear for a good loop, turning a platinum rap album into a Brooklyn head-nodder. Without the pageantry and fanfare of The Black Album’s original beats, Jay-Z sounds more introspective and thoughtful. Over Kno’s soft guitar loop, “What More Can I Say” pits Jigga against himself, instead of an angry music industry. A sparse “Justify My Thug” gets less sinister, “Lucifer” less brooding. “Dirt off Your Shoulder” stays pimped out even when Kno replaces Timbaland’s synths with trumpet loops straight out of a porn soundtrack. The White Albulum suits shoes better than tires, and those who prefer block trooping will appreciate it.

The ever-expanding St. Louis hip-hop scene represents as well, with Mr. Skip of Narrowpath and DJ Needles contributing The Red Album and The Jacked Album, respectively. Needles wears a love of the old boom-bap on his sleeve, chopping loops DJ Premier–style over big drums. Similar to Kno’s version, The Jacked Album gives Jay-Z the headphone treatment; “Justify My Thug” and “99 Problems” become effective head-nodders. As a nice touch, Needles also adds scratches to a few tracks. Mr. Skip sounds equally influenced by Prefuse73 and Slum Village’s Jay Dee, combining chilled out loops, hard synth drums, and some oddly chopped samples; the result is unique and pretty dope. The Red Album ranges from well-chosen loops, on “My 1st Song,” to almost experimental cutting, on “Justify My Thug.” Skip’s simply programmed drums make some of the more odd beats work, as on “Interlude (PSA).” The Red Album also features the creepiest version of “Threat” thus far.

The Gray Album is no longer available in stores, but can be downloaded from www.uphillbattle.com. The White Albulum can be purchased at www.qn5.com or www.hiphopsite.com. To get The Jacked Album, e-mail Needles at djneedles76@hotmail.com; for The Red Album, e-mail Skip at meloyelo76@sbcglobal.net.

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