February 2004: It's Grey Tuesday for Danger Mouse

Submitted by notoriousclassics on Wed, 02/24/2021 - 15:41
Danger Mouse in 2006

You've heard of Black Friday - how about Grey Tuesday?

On Feb. 24, 2004, nearly 200 websites joined together to offer Danger Mouse's The Grey Album for free download. The producer's passion project - a mash-up of Jay-Z's a cappella vocals from The Black Album and tracks from The Beatles' self-titled ninth album (often called "The White Album") - was the subject of much critical adoration, as well as a controversial debate on sampling.

The producer, born Brian Burton, stressed his intention was never to break copyright laws. "I was obsessed with the whole project, that's all I was trying to do, see if I could do this," he later said. "I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn't have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that."

Critics fell in love - Entertainment Weekly later called it the year's best album - but The Beatles' label, EMI, was unhappy with the unlicensed work, sending a cease-and-desist letter. In protest, nonprofit group Downhill Battle organized the media event, partnering with some 170 web sites to offer the album for free. More than 100,000 copies were added to iPods that day.

Years later, the most interested parties to The Grey Album came out as fans. "I think it was a really strong album," Jay-Z told NPR in 2010. "I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea." Paul McCartney also expressed his approval. "I didn't mind when something like that happened with The Grey Album," he said. "But the record company minded. They put up a fuss. But I was like, 'Take it easy guys, it's a tribute.'"

And The Grey Album certainly put Danger Mouse on the map: within two years, he had a hit of his own, forming Gnarls Barkley with CeeLo Green and scoring the international hit "Crazy."