[…] the first truly popular mashup album (2004).
Put together by the producer Danger Mouse, The Grey Album used Jay-Z’s a cappella vocals from The Black Album and mashed them up with music samples entirely from The Beatles The White Album — and it actually worked.
A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it’s really a deconstruction. It’s not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that’s all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn’t think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because 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.
The hype around The Grey Album caught the attention of Beatles’ copyright holder EMI, who ordered Danger Mouse and retailers carrying the album to cease distribution.
Music industry activist group Downhill Battle responded by coordinating Grey Tuesday, an electronic civil disobedience event held on 24 February 2004. Participating websites posted copies of The Grey Album for free download for a 24-hour period in protest of EMI’s attempts to prevent distribution of the mashup on the grounds that sampling is fair use and that a statutory license should be provided in the same manner as if an artist were to perform or record a cover version of a song. Hundreds of web sites publicized the event with 170 hosting the album for download. Over 100,000 copies were downloaded on that day alone. The legal repercussions of the protest were minimal; a number of the participants received cease and desist letters from EMI, but no charges were filed in connection with the event.