[27 January 2008]
PopMatters Features Editor
The art of the mash-up might have reached its zenith with Girl Talk’s extraordinary Night Ripper (2006), but that isn’t stopping others from trying to up the ante. This is both good and bad. On the first score, it means that maybe one day someone will improve on the formula established on that inescapable record. But, on the second score, it means that a flurry of merely OK and intermittently interesting mash-ups will be produced by home studio vinyl fanatics who just really want to hear what it’ll sound like if the G-Unit were to rap over the Crüe. Which, by the way, isn’t as cool as it might sound.
DJ Axel—apart from offering us a pretty funny cover which recreates Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by removing all of the politicians, Hollywood celebs of old, and ironic gestures to history, and replacing them with rappers and ‘80s hair bands—hasn’t got much to say. His record just seems, well, obvious. Not that the combinations of rappers and bands isn’t neat-o, but it doesn’t necessarily have any impact beyond the initial surprise. Lupe Fiasco rapping over Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” is fine, but the original of both tracks was better, and why exactly are they paired here? What are you saying, Mr. DJ? Because if they just sound good together, then you’ve lost the plot. While Girl Talk made us consider the irony of connecting, say, Biggie with Elton John (even while we bopped our heads and played guess-the-riff), here all I’m thinking about is how I miss the melody on Marley’s original track. Annoying.
For fans of the genre (is this a genre?), this must be a problem. Unless your DJ is incredibly clever and has a vast knowledge of music and music history, his or her mash-ups are inevitably going to rely on knee-jerk choices and surprise-free combos. Clipse rapping over “Another One Bites the Dust”? Eminem on “Billie Jean”? Boooooring. These backing tracks are so well known that there’s almost nothing you can do to freshen them up. The result might be an amazing soundtrack to a drunken night in a bar, but under headphones (while sober) it doesn’t even make me want to drink.