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Jay-Z & Timbaland »

What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 6/01/2004 06:36:00 AM

Mixtape Stars Spinning and Flipping Fresh Tracks

Hip-hop D.J.'s have long released unlicensed mixtapes and remix albums, invariably stamped with the words "for promotional use only." (The phrase is a talisman, used by superstitious D.J.'s who believe it will somehow keep the lawyers at bay.) But as these underground CD's get cleverer and more popular, they're starting to overshadow the live gigs they were meant to promote. Over the weekend the D.J.'s and producers behind some of the year's best hip-hop mixtapes played New York City's clubs.

The most famous of these underground CD's is "The Grey Album," on which a producer named Danger Mouse remixed Jay-Z's "Black Album" by adding beats made from snippets of the Beatles' so-called "White Album." The album couldn't be distributed legally of course, but it was a huge online hit (you can find it at www.illegal-art.org), and it turned Danger Mouse into one of hip-hop's most sought-after producers.

Danger Mouse's hip-hop duo, DM & Jemini, played Bowery Ballroom on Sunday night. The performance started with a solo D.J. set by Danger Mouse, who wore his standard white-and-gray mouse suit. He avoided "The Grey Album" but gave listeners some new mash-ups, including Mic Geronimo's "Masta I.C.," backed with a woozy OutKast beat.

Then the rapper Jemini emerged to deliver his high-spirited (but rather straightforward) rhymes over his partner's dense, dusty breakbeats. But Danger Mouse's omnivorous mix-and-match approach seemed to be contagious. Early on, Jemini teamed up with opening act Prine Po (formerly of Organized Konfusion) for a remake of Run-DMC's "Sucker MC's." And a few minutes later Jemini introduced a love song in terms any mixtape D.J. would understand. "We took some Portishead," he said, "and we flipped it with a little Stevie Wonder joint."

On Friday night the Brooklyn nightclub Southpaw was host to a more low-key hip-hop party. The headliners were Hollertronix, a Philadelphia D.J. duo, and DJ Ayres. Together, this three-man team played a casual, exuberant set celebrating the gleefully synthetic sound of current and recent hip-hop: Lloyd Banks's densely (and chintzily) orchestrated club hit "On Fire"; Khia's Casio-powered sex rap "My Neck, My Back"; B.G.'s cheap-sounding high-rollers' anthem, "Bling Bling."

All three D.J.'s do their best work on mixtapes. Hollertronix released 2003's best party album, "Never Scared" (Turntable Lab), which makes unexpected connections between Southern hip-hop and 1980's new wave: Soft Cell, meet Trick Daddy. And DJ Ayres has quietly become one of New York's best mixtape D.J.'s. (Ordering information is at www.djayres.com.)

First there was "Hip-House," compiled with Cosmo Baker, devoted to that brief, weird moment, 15 years ago, when hip-hop and house music seemed ready to merge. And now comes "Flashback," which uses sly segues to show which new rappers are borrowing beats and rhymes from their 1980's predecessors.

If you had left Southpaw around 1:30 a.m., you could have arrived at APT, in the meat-packing district of Manhattan, just in time to see the city's newest and most unlikely mixtape stars, Ratatat, spinning familiar but effective tracks by Jay-Z and other favorites. A few weeks ago this two-man band released the excellent "Ratatat Remixes: Mixtape Vol. 1" (www.ratatatmusic.com), which refurbishes a dozen mainstream hip-hop tracks using the duo's woozy, slow-rolling compositions.

Underneath rhymes from Kanye West, Missy Elliott and others, the duo comes on like an indie-rock Dr. Dre, creating stripped-down beats driven by gluey bass lines and silvery dashes of guitar and synthesizer.

Like all these mixtapes "Ratatat Remixes" is unlicensed, but record executives who hear it should hear something more than mere copyright infringement. If the right rapper were willing to take a chance, Ratatat could easily sneak onto mainstream hip-hop radio, following the trail blazed by another unlikely hip-hop producer duo: the Neptunes. So here's hoping these two get what they deserve: a contract, not a lawsuit.

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