Way back in 2001, UK producer Roy Kerr—aka The Freelance Hellraiser—decided to spread the vocals of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” over the instrumental of The Strokes’ “Hard to Explain”. The resulting track was christened “A Stroke of Genius”, and weirdly—it was. Something about The Strokes’ sparse, repetitious guitar riffs beneath Christina’s seductive, syrupy vocals felt serendipitous. By the time Christina was breathily singing “If you wanna be with me, baby there’s a price to pay,” you were left wondering why she hadn’t jostled herself into a pair of ripped, skin-tight drainpipes and replaced Julian Casablancas already.
The genius of this track didn’t just exist in its sound, though. At the time, indie music and manufactured pop were at two opposite ends of the room, staring each other down with a seething revulsion. So blending the concept of Christina and The Strokes harmoniously seemed culturally unthinkable, and by doing so, “A Stroke of Genius” showed how much two seemingly conflicted artists had in common.
Three years later, came Danger Mouse’s seminal The Grey Album. Launched as an experimental art project with a limited 3000-copy release, the producer mixed an a cappella version of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with samples from The Beatles’ self-titled ninth album, commonly known as The White Album. The result was a strange and complex collage of sounds; Jay-Z’s bars became contemplative and uplifting, while The Beatles’ melodies became warped, spiky, and full of grit. Its appeal existed in the jarring combination of two opposing forces—the musical equivalent of spreading oil paint onto photographs—and some of those tracks genuinely banged. It was by no means the first attempt to do a mash up album, but it was definitely the most successful.
Your boy Jay-Z must have been genuinely into it, because he then released Collision Course, an official mash up album with Cali nu metal band Linkin Park. The lead single “Numb/Encore” went on to win a Grammy, and when Jay-Z and Linkin Park performed the single live at the ceremony, they were joined onstage by Paul McCartney for a live triple mash up of their track with The Beatles’ “Yesterday”. The Grey Album, it seems, had advertently brought them all together IRL. And the vision of the three of them—Paul repeatedly bending his knees, Chester Bennington anxiously warbling along, Jay-Z standing awkwardly next to them in a John Lennon T-shirt—was probably the most peak mashup moment in history.
Fast-forward 15 years, and the once-loved music mash up has long since become a fiery pit of hell. Of all the things made better by the internet, this is something that has been truly violated. We live in a world where every popular musical creation is now at risk of being swiftly spliced, twisted and mashed up like a potato for RTs by a bored kid in the Netherlands with an Ableton crack. The history books aren't just being re-written. They are being MASHED UP, bro.
In the past year alone we’ve already had MF Doom mixed with Sade because: Isn’t that unexpected? We’ve had John Coltrane and Sunn O))) done with a competency they would both be ashamed of. We’ve had Kendrick Lamar mixed with Mario Bros just to truly disarm the poignancy of those bars he crafted through blood and sweat for with the sound of Bowser’s fire booming over the top. And we’ve had Bone Thugs-N-Harmony mixed with Sesame Street, purely because, as Noisey’s Dan Ozzi wrote, it was a combination of “Things We Kind of Remember Being Set to Songs We Once Liked.”
I guess the proliferation of these dogshit mash ups is our own fault for writing about them. It's no secret that the quickest way to get the entire music internet writing about you is by doing a mash up and sticking it online. We’re just as guilty as others. We see the words “Aphex Twin” and “Taylor Swift” on one Soundcloud link and think it is a dead cert on appealing to fans of both; disregarding the logic that my two favourite things are biscuits and pad thai, but to just toss an Oreo into my noodles would be unholy sacrilege.
While all these tracks are undeniably horrendous, and their multitude grows every single day, the grand and glorious death knell in this realm of bastardized music in 2016 has become the Kanye West mashup. His bars have been spread over everything, from Sam Smith to Weezer and Queens of the Stone Age to Death Cab for Cutie. Last month, an Orchestra mashed his 2013 track “Blood On the Leaves” with Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony”. In many ways, it feels like we are so obsessed with Kanye that we have to hear his voice over and over again, from different angles, over different tracks. He has been moulded and modified to a point that he’s not really a musician—just a bucket of bars to be picked up and scattered over anything online with a beat. Which, really, is kinda disgusting. Can’t we appreciate Kanye by himself?
It’s not that I don’t still appreciate the merging of two separate creations. I am not a robot. In the wake of The Grey Album, there were indeed a few mash-ups that acted as diamonds in a very low-bitrate rough: records like The Notorious XX, singles like the Lil Wayne and Passion Pit mash-up “Ambien Sleepy Trip”, and, yes, I am partial to David Cameron shouting "You ain't no Muslim, bruv!" over classic grime instrumentals. By now though, the novelty of marrying two tracks together has long worn thin. Like a joke told so many times that the teller has become crimson in face, frothing at the mouth, and is being restrained by the authorities, the mashup has reached peak overkill. It has become a shitty meme rather than a producer’s side-project.
So let’s put a stop to this madness. Let’s euthanize mash-up culture and burn it in a kiln so only its ashes remain. Next time you see Young Thug remixed with the Dolmio puppet saying “Whensa your’a Dolmio day?,” then throw it in the road, put its head in a puddle, and wait for a lorry. Next time you’re DM’d a Soundcloud link to “Hotline Bling” mixed with The Prodigy mixed with the Cheers theme tune, reply with a stern thumbs down emoji. Let’s push shitty mash up culture down some stairs; stick a firework up its ass; feed it so many gummy bears that it shits out its insides and decomposes into a poisonous, sickly mess on the floor. Why? Because, hell is a place where Notorious B.I.G. vocals have been put over every song in history.
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