Are mashups considered good music? It’s sort of a million dollar question.
I don’t mean should the person creating said mashups be considered a musician or not, I mean is the concept of taking two (or at least one) respected and/or beloved song and changing its context as good as the two songs separately? Even if it is, do you only like the mashup because it cheaply uses a song you like?
The Standard of Mashups
In 2004, the infallible Danger Mouse created the near-legendary Grey Album, combining Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatle’s White Album, get it? Not only did people love the production, but it starting a trend for both music mixing pros and Garage Band wanabees to use a widely available group of Jay-Z a capella offerings. But was the Grey Album actually that good?
Danger Mouse’s work takes two immensely popular albums and throws them together, so if you loved hearing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” why wouldn’t you like it with “What More Can I Say?” over it? But obviously it’s not that simple.
There’s a seamless blend in this particular song, and the ever-present Beatles’ singing is jelly to Jay-Z’s lyrical peanut butter. But it can be clunky at times too. Because rappers really focus on their ability to flow well over a given beat/sample, suddenly replacing an original track with something else may not always yield the best feeling results.
Take for example, “99 Problems.” While the first verse works pretty well, there’s something almost missing from the second one. Perhaps considered to be one of Jay-Z’s best verses in his career, the original “99 Problems” included a nice grungy guitar riff on downbeats while minimal instrumentation for the majority of his bars. But The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” doesn’t work here, interfering, rather than letting Jay-Z’s fun, clever storytelling work here. Separate, however, these songs are both classics.
Opposing mashup fandom are the traditionalists, people who consider tinkering with (modern) classics to be sacrilegious. Their argument applies to the old saying “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” This view may seem like a closed-off taste, but at the same time, mashups can be a chaotic, clashing maelstrom of genres.
The Usual Suspects
The dance associated with mashups is not one for the floor. It’s the dance around copyright infringement, and something that mashup artists like Girl Talk, Max Tannone, and Super Mash Bros do so well.
Girl Talk’s style is best described as a fast-paced dissection of popular songs since the 80s. Including this popular song that completely butchers one of my favorite songs of all time, “International Player’s Anthem” by UGK and Outkast.
The song, “Play Your Part (Part 1)” throws a ton of songs at you, and the video throws even more in the way of visuals. Overstimulated is the best way to describe Girl Talk’s mashups, but while they make songs like “International Players Anthem” suffer, they can really bring other songs out of the grime with a simple backing from Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Super Mash Bros compose their mashups in the same vein, but in shorter, more kitschy songs. Unlike Girl Talk, there’s a less in-your-face attitude here. The songs blend together better and usually include only two songs folding into each other at a time, though, this will occur in several pairs during one complete song.
“Livin’ on a Dream” is pretty low-key until the ending, then it enters Girl Talk’s offensively vibrant mashing. Of course, the groups are appealing to the crowd with their permanent dance shoes on, so it’s understandable when there are these loud, slightly obnoxious songs. Maybe my bias towards Super Mash Bros over Girl Talk is that they don’t butcher songs I like, and instead hide the changing up of a “classic” with more good songs, like “99 Problems” with CKY’s “96 Quite Bitter Beings,” or Clipse’s “Grindin’.”
Then there is Tannone, who creates albums similar to The Grey Album, mixing one particular artist with either another, or a withing a specific genre. A lot of my own “are mashups good music?” debate comes from his Jaydiohead album, which combines Jay-Z with my all-time-favorite Radiohead (who has yet to receive a Music Monday dedication).
Is it cheap to take these two artists and throwing their songs, almost completely unaltered, and throw them together? “Wrong Prayer” is an example of the songs working well together, taking “Pray” off Jay’s American Gangster and “I Might Be Wrong” off Radiohead’s Amnesiac. They’re both odd albums to take songs off of, one of Jay-Z’s lesser-known, somewhat weaker albums, and a song from Radiohead’s transitional (yet, still fantastic) experimental phase. Other songs like “99 Anthems” which takes “99 Problems” and Kid A‘s “National Anthem” seems fitting, but doesn’t really blend together that well. Overall, it’s not a very good song, but I like it because I like those two songs. So…it’s bad music comprised of two examples of good music?
A final example is “No Karma,” which takes another American Gangster track, “No Hook,” and mashes it with one of Radiohead’s most popular songs “Karma Police.” This time, it seems like Radiohead is dragging the Jay-Z song through the mashup. When I think about this song, I don’t think about it as something that ruins “Karma Police” for me, but as a song that makes “No Hook” better. It’s an odd mindset, for sure, but it’s one of the other effects that mashups can have.
For Your Consideration
Though, not as prolific, there are some great mashups from various artists that deal with the “combing classics conundrum,” but are still worth checking out.
Wait What‘s “Notorious XX – Notorious B.I.G. and The xx”
Wugazi’s “13 Chambers – Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi”
Bonus: Jesse Novak’s “8-Bit Hip-Hop Medley”