On The Record: Girl Talk Feels Free To Move About The Cabin, Makes A Positively Post-Millennial Album
On Tuesday morning, LL Cool JLL Cool J was on American Airlines Flight 33, heading from New York City to Los Angeles. He was sitting in first class, bulgy and massive, eyes surveying everyone who boarded. He looked pretty tired (it was 7:45 a.m., and he had probably been up all night doing the kinds of things LL Cool J does at night), but he did manage to crack a few smiles for the ladies, and I could've sworn I saw him lick his lips at least once. I cannot be sure of this, however.
That's because I wasn't sitting near him, but rather, I was stuffed back in coach, between a guy who looked like Peter Fonda (perhaps it was Peter Fonda) and a rather annoyed woman hammering away on her laptop. None of this is particularly relevant to this week's column, I just thought I'd bitch about the fact that I never get to fly business class.
Anyway, here's the point. Sometime around 9 a.m., while LL was no doubt breakfasting upon the finest pastries and thickest bacon imaginable, I was sitting some 225 rows behind him, listening to Girl TalkGirl Talk's new album, Feed the Animals, on my iPod (Peter Fonda was reading a book called "The Annotated Turing"). Song seven on the record is called "Like This," and it features, in addition to a whole lot of other things, two very audible samples of LL's "Mama Said Knock You Out," two samples that Girl Talk did not obtain LL's permission to use, which means that they appear in the song illegally, which means that LL is not getting paid for their usage, which would probably make LL very upset if he had any idea that this was happening.
Yet it most certainly was happening, and in a pressurized tube soaring through the air. And while LL was lapping coffee from a bone-china saucer, I went back and listened to the song again, partially because I was upset that I was flying coach, and partially because I was fascinated by the scenario that was unfurling around me: I was, in some small way, participating in the active bilking of LL Cool J — something he was completely unaware of — and all I had to do to make it stop was walk up to him, give him my iPod and go, "Hey, have you heard this?"
It's an entirely post-millennial dilemma, one that's right up there in the minds of today's music journalists with "If you are talking to Paris Hilton on a red carpet, do you acknowledge the fact that you have seen her naked?" and "Do you tell a band that you've downloaded their new album from LimeWire to prep for this interview?" And it's just part of what makes Girl Talk — né Gregg Gillis, a pasty, white biomedical engineer from Pittsburgh — perhaps the most important, and certainly the most, well, post-millennial artist of the post-millennium.
Because while other so-called mash-up artists have either left the genre behind them (Danger MouseDanger Mouse) or all but disappeared from the face of the earth (the Freelance Hellraiser), Gillis — who, it should be noted, does not consider himself a mash-up artist, despite evidence to the contrary — is still at it, sampling with reckless abandon, releasing albums with "pay what you feel" pricing schemes (as Animals was last week) and using the concept of "fair use" to shield himself from any pesky copyright suits. In a genre where artists hide behind secret identities — even his boss at the Illegal Art label goes by the handle "Philo T. Farnsworth," a name lifted from the inventor of the television — Gillis is, without question, the biggest name. In fact, he's pretty much the only name.
That is why Animals, which can be downloaded through Illegal Art's Web site, is so amazing. It's completely fearless in approach and scope, a record that makes no bones about sampling KanyeKanye, Lil WayneLil Wayne, Jimi HendrixJimi Hendrix, PrincePrince, RadioheadRadiohead, Michael JacksonMichael Jackson and MetallicaMetallica, released by a guy not hiding in any way, shape or form. And while it lacks the breakneck, "Holy sh--, did you hear that?!?" pacing of Gillis' last album, 2006's Night Ripper, it's in a lot of ways a better record. It's Gillis making a statement, whether it's in the caliber of the artists he's jacking (clearly, any of the aforementioned acts possess legal teams that could positively destroy him) or in the meanings behind those jackings.
Take, for example,the two Beastie BoysBeastie Boys samples used on the record: the booming drums of "So What'cha Want" (which, to be fair, BeckBeck also sampled on his track "E-Pro") and the hook of "Body Movin'." It might be reading too much into things, but the message to me is clear: The Beasties might have started this whole "mash-up" thing with their '89 opus Paul's Boutique, but now the jackers have become the jackees. ... It's Gillis' game now.
There's also his use of M.I.A.M.I.A.'s "Boys," which to me, is about as clear an example of post-millennial one-upmanship as I can think of: The king of no-samples-cleared samples the queen of the concept. Again, the jacker has become the jackee. It's the sound of the glove being tossed. A ballsy and brave effort that very few artists are capable of making. Oh, and it's awesome to dance to.
But where was I? Oh yeah, LL Cool J. I didn't tell him about the Girl Talk album, in part because I am such a fan of Gillis' work, but also because you could probably fill an airplane with people who have more reason to gripe than LL does. He's only been snippetized on Feed the Animals, whereas anyone in Queen, the Police, Faith No More or Dexy's Midnight Runners would have a, shall we say, much larger bone to pick with Gillis (so would Avril LavigneAvril Lavigne, Twisted SisterTwisted Sister, Temple of the DogTemple of the Dog, the Band, Flo RidaFlo Rida, Lil MamaLil Mama, Young JeezyYoung Jeezy and FergieFergie, for that matter).
I guess by writing this column, I am opening Gillis up to all sorts of bad things. And I hope that doesn't happen. But I felt the need to do this because his new album is so great, the kind of thing that could not have existed 10 years ago, an audio time capsule of the era in which we live. The kind of thing that can inspire post-millennial dilemmas at 37,000 feet.
I just hope LL doesn't read this.
(For more on Feed the Animals, watch Gillis go track-by-track through the album on the Newsroom blog.)
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Hit me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.