Paranoid Pop Problems

I am now on my third listen of the Jaydiohead mix this morning. It's a mash-up of Jay-Z and Radiohead, though spanning various albums rather than the compartmentalized master project that was The Grey Album.

It's also less of a mash-up, and more simply (though this adjective is hardly appropriate) a remix of the very pure, "remix culture" archetype. "Two great tastes that taste good when they copyrights are shattered into a thousand pieces..." you know: Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig shit.

The mix is good. That's really all there is to it. It's technically proficient, it snaps the head up and down, but it is laid back and chill enough for a hundred-thousand potential college smoke sessions. It's pure music design: sounds tailored to the exact culture-meme desires of the mp3 consuming audience. It is a full "album", giving it more of a concept than the simple remix track. This is not a song, its a commodity--something to own. Something to share. This is the audio iPhone for you to put on your iPhone. Did you know that "Paranoid Android" was the perfect back-beat for "Dirt off Your Shoulder"? No, but at the same time, yes, you did. You've been hearing this in your head before you even knew the component songs. It isn't so much DJ brilliancy as simply pop-music ascendancy--sounds destined to be heard, re-recorded, and played. It doesn't sound like innovation so much as fate. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I listen to it--thank goodness! I thought maybe it wouldn't happen. The anxiety first began when I heard OK Computer in the late 90s, and it was some sort of supplement to the teenage angst finding its expression in robots and synth for the first time. Then when I heard The Black Album, Jay-Z's move from the Big Pimpin' Hova sound pouring from the cars in the parking lot of my high school to a bit more cerebral sort of pimping, the anxiety reached a fever pitch. These words, they're good--but they're over the wrong music. The beats are great, but they're not enough. It's too minimal! Where's the rest of the sound? Turn it up! All the music I know should be underneath these words!

Now I can sigh in relief, because it's so obvious now. The answer to the question of pop music is Jay-Z; his continuous ping-pong between crack-slinging and label-hyping now is in context. What is the question? Well, it could be as simple as the question that engenders the answer: "42". Because his answer is just as simple, nothing really to dig and uncover here, but it keeps coming up again and again: the pop-music red herring that you finally realize on the last page, "oh, but there wasn't anything else." So there it is. Listen to Jay-Z, and then go and have a snack.

Maybe greatest common denominator is a better metaphor: a massive number, when simplified, is just so many symmetrical sets of two's, or 4/4, or the dodging back and forth of the rap that makes such a minor sub-culture now so ubiquitous in pop music after, really, only about 20-25 years (make your own number line). But why Jay-Z? Why not KRS? Why not 2Pac? Why not Run DMC (already done)? Why not Biggie? Oh, the anxiety is coming up again...

He's not Shakespeare. Maybe Thoreau? Maybe Whitman--ubiquitously American, but really no different than the rest--a paradigm, but nothing material other than the overwrought adjective "paradigmatic"...

But I hope this hype isn't overwrought. What I'm getting at is that this sort of thing isn't so much genius as it is... necessary. Expected. Probable in its very possibility. You don't have to like hip-hop to realize rap is pop poetry. It's not even the words, its the sublimity with which it just enters things, showing up as if it was supposed to exist their the whole time. Like music in the mind of a high schooler. It didn't exist, until all of a sudden its there and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief because thank god, it showed up.

All of which is to say, Jay-Z is the most re-mixable music artist to ever exist in the history of the world. The history of the world is not so long in the consciousness of re-mixable music, but if some people are correct, it will be living a long life. And perhaps this is why it so telling that this one music artist, risen from Brooklyn to the high-rises of the burning music industry, who makes his money on selling precisely this story, is the placental exchange-commodity of the future of pop music as we know it. Featured on a track he can make it sell; but laid under the track, his voice makes it gel with our pop libido. Mashed with Radiohead, it's the teenager's pop fantasy. Mashed with the Beatles, and, well... it's bigger than the id right now. Who's next? Joy Division? U2? James Taylor? Next thing you know, your parents will be telling you about the sweet joint they just copped.

So it is genius, but peripheral genius. It's synchronistic genius; it's serendipitous genius--all of which is to say, it is genius that could only be controlled by something as historical and abstract as fate. It's all about as underwhelming as the times, and pop music itself, but I'm still nodding my head. But it's the new standard: Jay-Z is the Standards for remixing--you want to audition? Put something underneath 99 Problems--let's see how the kid plays it.

If you like pop music, put your damn hands up. Everybody already knows the anthem.

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