Danger Mouse & Jemini: Ghetto Pop Life
Ghetto Pop Life
This is a beautifully produced hip-hop album. It's no surprise that Danger Mouse & Jemini's single "Ghetto Pop Life" climbed to the #1 spot on the betterPropaganda hip-hop download chart within days of being uploaded. Danger Mouse is riding high on the heels of a million downloads in early 2004 for his illicit Grey Album, a full length mash-up of Jay-Z and the Beatles, easily one of the top music stories of the year.
No matter what, it's going to be hard to follow up the success of the Grey Album, which had deep layers of sociological ramifications, legal impossibilities, artistic dilemmas, an eager audience and a mainstream media lending a generous ear. It was a music critic's wet dream. Since we're talking about a different project, let's define the basic substantial differences from the Grey Album. First off, Jemini is not Jay-Z. Ghetto Pop Life, aptly named- while still incorporating guitar samples here and there- is more about hip-hop old school, r&b, new jack city beats galore and "put your hands up in the air" sensibilities. It's more about drinking a 40 on the porch than tripping on acid like Charlie Manson, "Helter Skelter" freak. The Grey Album was hauntingly experimental, using eerily familiar samples, cut-up into some truly bizarre moments; it wasn't, by any means, a paint by numbers composition, it was out there. The Grey Album could get scary; the new release can get silly. Ghetto Pop Life is much more comfortable fitting into it's role as a legal hip-hop product; legal beats for sale, not reliant on shock value or artistic indulgence, but instead one of the strongest genres of music on the mainstream charts today. It's actually difficult to pinpoint similarities between the two products; although Ghetto Pop Life has some really strong pop sensibilities and guitar samples, something that explains The Beatles connection.
Of course, Danger Mouse, as an excellent production talent, has many hours of studio time ahead of him at this point, and we can only consider ourselves lucky to hear any of it. At times he reminds one of DJ Shadow, especially his descending chord progression in the title track. Other times, he sounds full on radio production big, like you're listening to, well, someone like Jay-Z. He's very comfortable with trunk friendly basslines and Ruff Ryders sounding samples, it's very clear he knows where he's coming from. One also gets a sense of his musical fearlessness on Ghetto Pop Life, although he's not breaking as many rules with this release. After his early success this year, one would hope he'd keep pushing his own personal envelope into some new terrain for us all; he's certainly proven himself to be highly capable on that front. Props all the way, this cat is world class.
Jemini is a neighborhood gangster player ready to pull every hip-hop cliche out of the books, old school friendly in his track suit, mackin' on the ladies, woot woot, hey-o hey-o all the way. He's certainly more than capable of playing the part, larger than life toon stylee. He does well in his role after repeated listens, a friendly voice you'd nod your head to on the car stereo, bass turned up to rattle levels. He's got a chameleon side to him; he's able to change moods, styles and phrasings, but one is left grasping for who Jemini himself is, beyond his ability to sound like other generic voices already on the radio. He does not distinguish himself in this release as an iconographic lyricist or instantly recognizable voice. Indeed, looking at Danger Mouse & Jemini is sort of like looking at Outkast; you've got an incredibly amazing larger-than-life force in Andre 3000, and in Big Boi, a world class talent who doesn't stand out from his peers or take us to new ground.
The album boasts some fancy metallic ink printing and nifty comic bling bling graphics. It's got the standard bits of random mayhem between tracks you expect on hip-hop albums these days: bits of the Bush family rambling on about the New World Order, lo-fi snippets and thematic musical interludes. This is an album you'd listen to more than once, lots going on, and it feels good. It will make some top ten lists for the year, and one would expect it to move some units. The biggest let down is that you're left wanting more; which is good because the album is that good, and bad because there's the impression that these two can accomplish even more than what we're hearing here; these guys are that hot and that capable.