How often have you looked at two things that you enjoyed and wondered just how amazing a combination of the two would be? Well, musicians have done just that for years, giving birth to the mash-up genre in the process.
Once looked down on as a derivative art form, the last few decades have seen countless artists create something amazing by bringing together the music of vastly different artists, or creating some party-starting musical collage, and giving us a hugely popular genre along the way.
To honour some of these musical visionaries, we’ve decided to take a step back and look at some of the best mash-up albums of all time, showcasing some of the most memorable times that artists ventured outside the regular confines of music to give us something pretty special.
DJ Danger Mouse – The Grey Album’ (2004)
Arguably one of the most famous mash-up albums of all time, Danger Mouse came to prominence in 2004 when he released The Grey Album, an experimental project that combined the a cappella vocals of Jay-Z from his record The Black Album, with samples from The Beatles’ The White Album.
Despite Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr being fans of the concept, record label EMI were not on board at all, and kicked off a legal battle to have the record removed from stores and the Internet. Of course, since this is the Internet we’re talking about, this publicity only made the record more popular, and a dedicated day to protest this legal action resulted in over 100,000 copies of the record being downloaded for free.
Check out ’99 Problems’ by DJ Danger Mouse:
Max Tannone – ‘Jaydiohead’ (2009)
Keeping Jay-Z in mind for a moment, the hip-hop superstar was again featured on a classic album in 2009 when US producer Max Tannone (then known as Minty Fresh Beats) took samples of Jay’s work and placed them over some of Radiohead’s classic tunes. The result was an Internet sensation which saw the record being featured on US talk shows, and receiving praise from Jay-Z himself.
This time around, the record wasn’t taken down by the Recording Industry Association of America, and it actually spawned a sequel which was appropriately titled Jaydiohead: The Encore.
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Check out ‘No Karma’ by Jaydiohead:
Dean Gray – ‘American Edit’ (2005)
In 2005, US producer Party Ben teamed up with Aussie musician Team9 under the name of Dean Grey to create the beast that is American Edit, an album that combined Green Day’s American Idiot with a number of popular tunes. Like The Grey Album before it, American Edit was also forced offline by Green Day’s record label, even though frontman Billie Joe Armstrong called himself a fan, leading to another infamous legal back-and-forth.
Sadly, the publicity overshadowed the music that was actually featured on the record, which contained countless big names being sampled for the release, including Oasis, Madonna, Queen, Dire Straits, Kanye West, and even Johnny Cash. Despite the controversy, the record’s lead single, ‘Boulevard Of Broken Songs’, actually managed to become of the year’s most-played songs for a number of radio stations around the world. Not a bad effort overall.
Check out ‘Boulevard Of Broken Songs’ by Dead Gray:
Wait What – ‘The Notorious xx’ (2010)
What do you get when you mix the gritty lyrics and powerful delivery of The Notorious B.I.G. with the introverted indie musicianship of The xx? Well, you get a record called The Notorious xx. The product of US producer Wait What, The Notorious xx is one of those rare records that’s perfect for getting you amped up for a night out, while also serving as the perfect comedown after that aforementioned night out.
With lyrics about the grim realities of hustling hitting you with breakneck speed, the relaxed, downtempo rhythm section, and the gorgeous vocals of Romy Madley Croft manage to bring you right back down to Earth, delivering a stunning project that truly has to be heard to be believed.
Check out ‘Juicy-R’ by Wait What:
Tor – ‘Illinoize’ (2009)
Most fans of Sufjan Stevens will agree that 2005’s Illinoise is arguably the musician’s best work. With tracks such as ‘Chicago’ and ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, the record was an indie hit, but sadly did little to appeal to fans of the hip-hop genre.
Thankfully, that’s where Canadian producer Tor stepped in, crafting Illinoize, a mixtape which combined Sufjan’s tracks with tunes from hip-hop’s best names. Keen to hear Aesop Rock spit bars over Sufjan’s indie gems? Now’s your chance!
Check out ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr./Specialize’ by Tor:
Team Teamwork – ‘Ocarina Of Rhyme’ (2009)
If, like many of us did back in the day, you spent countless hours playing The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time while listening to hip-hop anthems, then this album might sound less like a groundbreaking oddity and more of a nostalgic rediscovery.
Mixing up instrumental tunes from Koji Kondo’s beloved video game soundtrack with the poetic lyrics of artists such as OutKast, Dr. Dre, Clipse, and MF Doom, Ocarina Of Rhyme is undoubtedly a strange one, but a record that will grow on you in time nonetheless.
Check out ‘Virginia’ by Team Teamwork:
Wugazi – ’13 Chambers’ (2011)
If ever you were going to make a list of ‘things that shouldn’t work, but do’, Wugazi’s 13 Chambers should be somewhere near the top. The product of producers Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy, Wugazi seamlessly combines the lyrical ferocity of hip-hop visionaries The Wu-Tang Clan with the musical complexity of Fugazi.
One of the most amazing aspects of 13 Chambers isn’t the fact that these tracks seem to blend so well, but probably the fact that if you were to show this series of tracks to anyone unfamiliar with both bands, you could very easily convince them that this is indeed just a daring new project that mixes up two genres. Future artists take note, this is the standard to which all mash-ups should be made.
Check out ‘Another Chessboxin’ Argument’ by Wugazi:
Neutral Bling Hotel – ‘In My G4 Over Da Sea’ (2012)
Depending on who you ask, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is either one of the greatest albums of all time, or one of the most overhyped pieces of garbage ever recorded. Considering the record’s enduring popularity and the group’s constant influence, we’re inclined to believe the former might be true – as does UK producer Psycosis, it seems.
In 2012, Psycocis dropped the record In My G4 Over Da Sea under the name of Neutral Bling Hotel, a completely unexpected record that combines every track from Neutral Milk Hotel’s final album with a collection of hip-hop classics. Are you ready to hear Pitbull interject on Jeff Mangum’s ode to Anne Frank? Do you want to hear indie royalty accompanied by the brutal introspection of Nas’ ‘One Mic’? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might want to give this one a spin – you’ll be glad you did.
Check out ‘Look At The Two-Headed Boy’ by Neutral Bling Hotel:
The Kleptones – ‘Uptime/Downtime’ (2010)
In the early 2000s, The Kleptones burst onto the electronic music scene thanks to the success of two rather unique albums, a Flaming Lips tribute titled Yoshimi Battles The Hip-Hop Robots, and a Queen mash-up titled A Night At The Hip-Hopera. Following a number of legal demands in regards to the latter, Eric Kleptone decided to keep a bit more of a low profile for his next few releases.
However, when 2010 came around, The Kleptones released the stunning double album Uptime/Downtime, proving to everyone that this project was going to be around for quite some time.
An ambitious two-and-a-half-hour release, Uptime/Downtime is arguably the crowning achievement for The Kleptones, and provides one of the few places that you can hear The Prodigy mash-up with the Beastie Boys, Nick Cave with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Busta Rhymes with No Doubt, and Metallica with Aretha Franklin.
Check out ‘Hella Touch’ by The Kleptones:
2ManyDJs – ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ (2003)
Another one for the mash-up hall of fame, 2ManyDJs are arguably one of the genre’s biggest names, being formed as a side project for Soulwax’s David and Stephen Dewaele in the late ‘90s. Following a number of successful DJ sets and bootleg releases, the pair decided to focus their efforts on crafting an official compilation.
The end result was As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2, which managed to not only be named as one of the greatest records of the year, but also attracted praise from big names such as David Bowie and Kylie Minogue.
With artists as diverse as Destiny’s Child, The Residents, The Breeders, Röyksopp, and The Cramps, As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 is a stunning showcase of what some of the most skilled producers in the world of music can put together with a bit of motivation and plenty of vision. For an amazing visual accompaniment to this legendary release, check out the stunning video produced by Soulwax below.
Check out As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 by 2ManyDJs:
Girl Talk – ‘Feed The Animals’ (2008)
Out of all of the above artists, Girl Talk is probably the most well-known, having toured his one-man party all over the world. Originally kicking off his musical ventures while studying biomedical engineering at college, the success of his Girl Talk project eventually proved so successful that he quit the science side of things to focus on his musical career.
However Girl Talk came to the attention of the mainstream musical audience in 2008 with the release of his fourth album, Feed The Animals. Receiving critical acclaim, seeing two tracks crack the 101-200 reaches of the 2008 Hottest 100, and even scoring a spot on the Big Day Out lineup, it seems that music fans were pretty keen on a style of music that saw artists like INXS mixed up with Roy Orbison, Nirvana, and Salt-n-Pepa.
Check out ‘In Step’ by Girl Talk:
Honourable Mention: Neil Cicierega – ‘Mouth Sounds’ (2014)
While some of the above releases certainly have a theme, whether it be mixing up hip-hop songs with indie-rock gems, or just allowing tunes of varying genres to complement each other in unexpected ways, nothing can compare to the sheer head-scratching strangeness of Neil Cicierega’s Mouth Sounds.
While the creation of Mouth Sounds is undoubtedly impressive, the kitsch, meme-like quality of the entire album is so inexplicable in that it actually sort of works. While Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ gets a constant and repetitive airing on this mix, the mash-up of countless childhood favourites with movie and TV themes, alongside varying film quotes turns this into a stunningly strange composition.
Shifting between gorgeously-constructed to horrifyingly-weird at the drop of a hat, Neil Cicierega definitely knows how to toy with a music fan. If you’re a fan of this one, be sure to check out Neil’s following albums, Mouth Silence, and Mouth Moods, just for more fun mash-up entertainment