Overlooked in the Aughts is an ongoing feature focusing on some of the best albums from the 2000s that haven’t quite received the attention they deserved. Today’s post: Danger Mouse & Jemini’s Ghetto Pop Life.
When it comes to end-of-the-decade music lists, there’s got to be one titled “Best Danger Mouse Albums.” Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, burst into the pop music stratosphere with the (in?)famous Beatles-meets-Jay-Z mash-up piece, The Grey Album, and never looked back. If there’s one person who claim to the “hardest working man in show business” crown the late James Brown held for decades, it’s Burton. The guy’s worked with countless musicians from disparate genres (and, with Dark Night of the Soul, film directors as well) and has more side-projects under his belt than many up-and-coming indie bands have songs. And he’s got more projects in the pipeline.
Though I look forward to each new Danger Mouse-related release, I can’t help but feel a little let down when each newly-announced record puts me further away from that one collection of songs I really want: a follow up to 2003’s Ghetto Pop Life.
Made just before the world knew all the ways one could morph Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” Danger Mouse’s collaboration with Brooklyn rapper Jemini is pure hip-hop magic. And yet, more people are probably aware of DM’s teamwork with Banksy remixing Paris Hilton’s record than they are of Ghetto Pop Life.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to get hooked to this album. And it’s hard not to get hooked. With Danger Mouse at the boards, Ghetto Pop Life breathes an essence of “golden age” hip-hop from beginning to end. The kick drums are simple and affective – punching in their times and taking the snaps and crackles of vinyl playback with them; There are thick, chunky basslines; pre-Gnarls Barkley soul snippets flow throughout the record; and the samples… the samples! Whether they’re recalling the crate-digging beatmaking of yesteryear or snatching seconds of Biggie (“Omega Supreme”), it makes for a dynamic album like any great hip-hop record.
Then there’s Jemini. The yin to DM’s yang. And that they are. Though Danger Mouse has certainly clicked with almost everyone he’s worked with, his pairing with Jemini really is unique. You can almost feel the fraternal bond these two share while playing tracks off Ghetto Pop Life. The way that Jemini’s voice bounces off DM’s fat basslines on “The Only One” and the way Jemini seems to ride the musical arcs of “Medieval” with a smooth ease while trading rhymes with The Pharcyde is unparalleled.
DM and Jemini do make for a dynamic duo in a way that many hip-hop heads complain no longer exists. Rather than one person overpowering another, it’s a team effort. It ain’t the Danger Mouse show featuring Jemini, or the Jemini Experience produced by Danger Mouse. It’s a collaborative experience, with the end product a fluid, fun album.
Ghetto Pop Life is such a fantastic record, that it’s often hard to understand why it’s still something of a cult treasure, especially considering Danger Mouse’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune. A good half of the album could have conceivably taken over radio and TV airplay and sent this album to the top of the Billboard 200. There’s the hilarious “Don’t Do Drugs,” where Jemini plays a drug dealer trying to con a petty criminal, a college student, and just about anyone into buying “red ones, green ones, blue ones, white ones”; some neo-old-school ramblings on “Ghetto Pop Life,” where Jemini’s bombast hits full blast; and on the clear single, “The Only One,” DM shows off his ear for pure pop-bliss, as his sampling of Los Roberts’ “Lovin for the Night” perfectly compliments Jemini’s anti-repping rap. Even “What U Sittin On? 26″ Remix,” which wasn’t included on the original release, is a hit, and happens to be one of the best Danger Mouse songs featuring future Gnarls Barkley band-mate Cee-Lo.
Over the next few months, as the end-of-the-decade lists begin to pour in, I won’t be too surprised to see any Danger Mouse project hit someone’s top 10, 20, 50, 100 or 500 albums or singles list. Will the Ghetto Pop Life be as prevalent as, say, St. Elsewhere, The Grey Album, or even The Good, The Bad & The Queens? Probably not. But hopefully, someone out there will stumble upon this record and be able to appreciate it not because of some assigned number, but simply because it exists.
Danger Mouse & Jemini – “The Only One”: