The Grey Album

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For other uses, see The Grey Album (disambiguation).
The Grey Album
Danger Mouse The Grey Album.svg
Remix album (bootleg) by Danger Mouse
Released February 2004
Genre Hip hop, rap rock, mashup
Length 44:36
Producer Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse chronology
DM & Jemini
Ghetto Pop Life
The Grey Album
Demon Days
Alternative cover
Promotional artwork by Justin Hampton. This was not used for the actual cover, but appeared on the Danger Mouse website.

The Grey Album is a mashup album by Danger Mouse, released in 2004. It uses an a cappella version of rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album and couples it with instrumentals created from a multitude of unauthorized samples from The Beatles' LP The Beatles, more commonly known as The White Album. The Grey Album gained notoriety due to the response by EMI in attempting to halt its distribution despite Jay-Z's, Paul McCartney's, and Ringo Starr's approval of the project.


Danger Mouse released The Grey Album in limited quantities to a few internet outlets. Due to the amount of attention the mashup received, EMI, copyright holder of The Beatles, ordered Danger Mouse and retailers carrying the album to cease distribution. Because of the overwhelming popularity of Danger Mouse's work this did not happen. Danger Mouse never asked permission to use The Beatles' material, and intended to produce a limited production run of 3,000 copies. Jay-Z's material, on the other hand, was commercially released in a cappella form. Although that work was copyrighted, it was released for the implicit purpose of encouraging mashups and remixes.

The album quickly became popular and widely distributed over the Internet because of the surrounding publicity. It also came to the attention of the critical establishment; it received a very positive write-up in the February 9, 2004 issue of The New Yorker and was named the best album of 2004 by Entertainment Weekly. The Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop critics poll ranked the album 10th for 2004.[1]

The Grey Album is one of many The Black Album remix albums spurred by Jay-Z's release of the a cappellas. Producers Kno (from the Cunninlynguists) and Kev Brown earlier had released their own color-themed remix albums, titled The White Al-bu-lum and The Brown Album respectively. A Pete Rock remix of the album was circulated as well and released on Good Foot Records, but the album was actually a mash up with beats from his previously released PeteStrumentals album. The Internet distribution of The Grey Album spurred a series of DJs and amateur mashup artists to mix the a cappella version of The Black Album with a variety of other artists, including Weezer,[2] Madlib,[3] Pavement,[4] Prince,[5] Metallica,[6] Radiohead, Modest Mouse,[7] and Wu-Tang Clan.[8]

Supplemental artwork was provided for later bootleg versions of the album by Justin Hampton after the initial release.

Grey Tuesday[edit]

Grey Tuesday was a day of coordinated electronic civil disobedience on February 24, 2004. Led by Downhill Battle, an activist group seeking to restructure the music industry, participating websites posted copies of Danger Mouse's The Grey Album for free download on its sites for 24 hours in protest of EMI's attempts to prevent any distribution of this unlicensed work. This protest was provoked by the opinion that the sampling is fair use and that a statutory license should be provided in the same manner as if a song had been covered.

Hundreds of web sites participated and roughly 170 hosted the album for download. Over 100,000 copies were downloaded on that day alone.[1]

The legal repercussions of the protest were minimal; a number of the participants received cease and desist letters from EMI, but no charges were filed in connection with the event.

The Grey Video[edit]

The Grey Video is a music video made in the autumn of 2004 by directing team Ramon & Pedro, comprising Swiss directors Laurent Fauchere and Antoine Tinguely, to promote the single "Encore". Entirely in black and white, it features clips from The Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, and footage from a Jay-Z performance. It uses new footage and computer generated imagery to create scenes that involve John Lennon breakdancing and Ringo Starr scratching. It begins with The Beatles performing before cameras and a live audience. Ringo Starr begins to drum to the 1:00 to 1:08 segment of "Glass Onion". John Lennon begins to sing while George Harrison and Paul McCartney nod their heads to the beat. After a few moments, the monitors in the director's booth begin to flicker, showing scenes of Jay-Z rapping "Encore", and the lyrics of the chorus begin to show behind the group. Starr's drum kit becomes a set of turntables and mixer and he begins to scratch while John continues to sing "Oh, yeah!" as sampled from "Glass Onion".

As "Encore" moves into the second verse, the beat changes to a sample of "Savoy Truffle". A John Lennon body double starts to breakdance, leading to a headspin. McCartney and Harrison are replaced by two dancers. The Lennon double backflips off the screen, flinging his wig off. The drummer walks off and the lights fade to black.

The video is not available commercially, but has become popular over the Internet. Due to the legal issues surrounding the use of copyrighted material, the video is shown with the disclaimer that it was made for non-commercial and experimental purposes only. Picture-quality differences are apparent, however, as the original Beatles' footage originated on film, while the added footage originated on digital video with inferior image quality.


Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) is quoted as saying:

"A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it's really a deconstruction. It's not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that's all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn't think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. 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."[2]

Burton also commented at length on the creation of The Grey Album in the 2007 Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy: A documentary about the current state of copyright and culture.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic (79/100)[3]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
The Boston Globe (favorable)[5]
Entertainment Weekly (A)[6]
NME (10/10)[7]
Pitchfork Media (7.7/10)[8]
Robert Christgau (2-star Honorable Mention)[9]
Rolling Stone (favorable)[10]
Spin 4.5/5 stars[11]
Stylus (C)[12]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4/5 stars[13]
The Village Voice (mixed)[14]

Danger Mouse is quoted as saying: "This wasn't supposed to happen... I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place." Burton denied being the agent provocateur, saying it "was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project."[15]

Cultural critic Sam Howard-Spink observed that "The tale of The Grey Album and Grey Tuesday offers a rich case study for the examination of a wide variety of contemporary cultural issues within the context of the 'copyright wars' remix culture and the age of the digital network."[16]

Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet law at Harvard Law School, comments that

As a matter of pure legal doctrine, the Grey Tuesday protest is breaking the law, end of story. But copyright law was written with a particular form of industry in mind. The flourishing of information technology gives amateurs and homerecording artists powerful tools to build and share interesting, transformative, and socially valuable art drawn from pieces of popular cultures. There's no place to plug such an important cultural sea change into the current legal regime.[16]

On November 16, 2010, Jay-Z offered his thoughts on the album during an interview on NPR. "I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea—to do it. And it sparked so many others like it... I was honored to be on—you know, quote-unquote, the same song with The Beatles."[17]

On February 11, 2011, Paul McCartney whilst commenting on the influence of the Beatles and black music gave this assessment as part of a BBC documentary titled The Beatles and Black Music, produced by Vivienne Perry and Ele Beattie.

“It was really cool when hip-hop started, you would hear references in lyrics, you always felt honored. It’s exactly what we did in the beginning – introducing black soul music to a mass white audience. It’s come full circle. It’s, well, cool. When you hear a riff similar to your own, your first feeling is ‘rip-off.’ After you’ve got over it you think, “Look at that, someone’s noticed that riff.’”

McCartney said of EMI's reaction, “I didn’t mind when something like that happened with The Grey Album. But the record company minded. They put up a fuss. But it was like, ‘Take it easy guys, it’s a tribute.’”[18]

Track listing[edit]

All songs sampled are by The Beatles unless otherwise noted.

No. Title Song(s) sampled Length
1. "Public Service Announcement"   "Long, Long, Long" 2:45
2. "What More Can I Say"   "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
"Top Billin'" by Audio Two
3. "Encore"   "Glass Onion", "Savoy Truffle" 2:40
4. "December 4th"   "Mother Nature's Son" 3:34
5. "99 Problems"   "Helter Skelter" 4:06
6. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder"   "Julia" 3:59
7. "Moment of Clarity"   "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" 4:00
8. "Change Clothes"   "Piggies", "Dear Prudence" 4:04
9. "Allure"   "Dear Prudence" 4:06
10. "Justify My Thug"   "Rocky Raccoon" 4:12
11. "Lucifer 9 (Interlude)"   "Revolution 9", "I'm So Tired" 2:01
12. "My 1st Song"   "Cry Baby Cry", "Savoy Truffle", "Helter Skelter" 4:44


  1. ^ Rimmer, p. 130
  2. ^ Rimmer, pp. 132–133
  3. ^ "The Grey Album Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  4. ^ The Grey Album at AllMusic
  5. ^ "Jay-Z, the Beatles meet in 'Grey' area - The Boston Globe". February 10, 2004. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  6. ^ David Browne (March 19, 2004). "The Grey Album Review | Music Reviews and News". Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  7. ^ "NME Album Reviews - Danger Mouse : The Grey Album". Nme.Com. March 19, 2004. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Pitchfork: Album Reviews: Danger Mouse: The Grey Album". February 16, 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert, Consumer Guide Album,, retrieved 18 July 2012 
  10. ^ Gitlin, Lauren. "DJ Makes Jay-Z Meet Beatles". Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  11. ^ Ryan, Chris. "Danger Mouse, 'The Grey Album' (". Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  12. ^ "DJ Dangermouse - The Grey Album - Review". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  13. ^ Ranta, Alan (2004). Review of The Grey Album. Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  14. ^ Douglas Wolk (February 10, 2004). "Mother Nature's son, I got 99 problems but a glass onion". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  15. ^ Rimmer, p. 133
  16. ^ a b Rimmer, p. 134
  17. ^ Jay-Z (November 16, 2010). Jay-Z: The Fresh Air Interview. Interview with Terry Gross. NPR. Fresh Air, National Public Radio. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Paul McCartney Is Down With Hip-Hop". February 24, 2011. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  1. ^ The Village Voices Winners
  2. ^ Mike's The Black and Blue Album
  3. ^ Biz's Blackvillainy
  4. ^ K12 of 12-N-Dirty Productions The Purple Album
  5. ^ Cheap Cologne's Double Black Album
  6. ^ DJ CooL Guy Presents: Jay-Z in The Black Chamber


External links[edit]