Project X Takes On A Culture Bully

mmatos | December 31, 2007 10:00 am

As part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, he examines the health of the bootleg mash-up thanks to a list compiling the year’s best in bastard pop:

Five years ago, when I submitted my lists to the Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop survey, the albums I selected were:

1. Boom Selection_Issue 01 (Boom Selection import) 30 2. The Streets, Original Pirate Material (Locked On/Vice) 30 3. Sleater-Kinney, One Beat (Kill Rock Stars) 5 4. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 1 (Waxed Soul import) 5 5. The Best of Boom Selector Vol. 2 (bootleg) 5 6. Clipse, Lord Willin’ (Star Trak) 5 7. Playgroup, Party-Mix Vol. 1 (Playgroup promo import) 5 8. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 3 (Waxed Soul import) 5 9. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (PIAS import) 5 10. The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever (No Label import) 5

It was, of course, a stunt ballot; in year-end critics-poll terms, that’s second only to the protest ballot in terms of annoying petulance. Yet any regret I’ve had over it was short lived. The reason, I think, is that voting for seven conglomerations of bootleg mash-ups–No. 1 was three CD-Rs of MP3s–was a way of voting for Pop 2002 itself. That’s the way it seemed to me at the time, anyway. 2002 seemed like the cap of a stunning amount of pop activity, an impression that’s only deepened since. These stitch-togethers suggest why: hip-hop, R&B, indie rock, dance music, and mainstream pop seemed to not only be moving in interesting directions, they seemed to be part of the same conversation, nowhere more so than the bastard pop made from them. I’m also glad I risked foolishness by bowing to a pop moment rather than attempting to look good for posterity.

But a moment it was, at least for me. Within a year I had pretty much stopped paying mash-ups much attention, and though I enjoy them occasionally I rarely go back to even my favorites. So my curiosity was piqued last year when I saw that Chris De Line, on the blog Culture Bully, had put together a list of the best mash-ups of the year, just as the site had had the year before. He put up a 2007 list as well. Here’s the Top 10:

Culture Bully’s Top 10 Mash-Ups of 2007 1. Copycat, “Knowing the Rhythm Is Right” (Nelly Furtado vs. ABBA vs. Sagi Rei) 2. A Plus D, “Close to Konichiwa Bitches” (Robyn vs. the Cure) 3. Arty Fufkin, “Liar in a Brianstorm” (Arctic Monkeys vs. Beyoncé feat. Shakira) 4. DJ Morgoth, “Starz on the Boogie” (Just Jack vs. Jay-Kid) 5. DJ STV SLV, “Lose My Waters of Naza(b)reath” (Justice vs. Destinys Child) 6. Lenlow, “Bjorn Slippy” (Peter, Bjorn & John vs. Underworld) 7. ABX, “Tambourine Reckoning” (Eve vs. Radiohead) 8. Dunproofin’, “Fiddy Fiddy Fiddy Fiddy” (50 Cent vs. Kaiser Chiefs) 9. DJ Erb, “Ecstasy of Gold” (Ennio Morricone vs. Nas) 10. ABX, “Wouldn’t Grip Far” (The Game vs. the Go! Team)

Listening to these the first time was faintly embarrassing, like seeing a picture of myself during my ill conceived eighth-grade rat-tail-and-Zubaz phase. At first all I could hear were the joins. Take Copycat’s No. 1 entry: Nelly Furtado’s vocals have been clipped slightly, throwing off the easy cadence of the original “Say It Right.” On subsequent plays it sounds a lot smoother over its new bed–per Mashuptown, ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” as well as Sagi Rei’s cover of Snap’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” and some added instrumentation. (I now remember another thing I liked about mash-ups: listing their sources ate up my word counts, making them relatively easy to write about.)

That isn’t to say Copycat’s track isn’t pure stunt work. Most of these tracks are; that’s sort of the idea of mash-ups in the first place. And plenty of them are egregious: Arty Fufkin’s “Liar in a Brianstorm” might make Beyoncé and Shakira sound relatively right over the Arctic Monkeys’ hectic pounding, but it doesn’t make any of them sound especially interesting. On the other hand, “Lose My Waters of Naza(b)reath” (horrible title, like most of them) makes hay with Miss B’Day by looping and manipulating Justice’s track till the two things build momentum together, a reminder that arranging ability and not mere Vocal A + Music B was what separated the good from the bad.

Or, a lot more often, from the mediocre: take Lenlow “Bjorn Slippy,” which, actually decent title aside, merely pastes that ubiquitous whistling song over the beatless intro from Underworld’s greatest hit. It works, I guess, but it’s pretty one-joke, and when Karl Hyde comes in it just seems cheap. DJ Morgoth’s “Starz on the Boogie,” on the other hand, alternates Jay-Kid’s Jackson 5 cover with a Just Jack track to pretty good effect–though it might just seem that way since I didn’t know the Just Jack track beforehand and don’t find it distracting.

Of course, such juxtapositions can be their own ends: ABX’s No. 7 entry pairs Eve’s exuberant hit with my favorite track off the new Radiohead album, and DJ Erb makes Nas’s rising-momentum “One Mic” over with the help of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western theme. Both prove their points nicely enough, neither will take the place of either the originals or anything else like them, and all of it convinces me that one year of wallowing in this stuff was quite enough.

Culture Bully’s 15 Favorite Mashups Of 2007 [Culture Bully]