Why Danger Mouse is the most relevant man in music

I came across a feature in this Sunday's SF Chron (yes, I still read the newspaper) detailing the litany of projects that Danger Mouse (the dude on the right) has produced since he put together "The Grey Album" in 2004 (which I'm listening to as I write this post).

If you're not familiar with "The Grey Album," it was a mashup of Jay-Z's "The Black Album" with the Beatles "White Album."Was it legal? No. Was it awesome? Yes. And it made Danger Mouse a superstar. Since then, he has gone on to collaborate with artists like the Gorillaz, Beck and most recently,  James Mercer from the Shins (the dude on the right). Not to mention Gnarls Barkley. But Danger Mouse is more than just a superstar.

Danger Mouse is the most relevant artist in music today.

Full disclosure.
Before I get into why I think Danger Mouse is so relevant, I must disclose that I sort of know him. Not well, but well enough to root for his success.

To me, Danger Mouse is Brian Burton, a kid who grew up around the corner from me in Spring Valley, a suburb outside of NYC. He was friend's with my kid sister and I remember him coming by the house a couple of times. I used to go over to his house with my dad, who was a plumber, to fix the sink every once in a while. His dad was a real cool guy. I remember he raised show dogs. Brian was always a really nice kid, but to be honest, I hadn't thought of him until my sister said to me on the phone one day, "You ever hear of Danger Mouse? He's Brian-fucking-Burton from around the block!"

This is all interesting stuff, but it's not what makes Danger Mouse so damn relevant. Here's what is:

He embodies the expectations of the Millennial generation
I saw a study a few years ago that asked college students if they thought they would be famous in their lifetime. 28% said yes. Not that they could be famous. Not that the might be famous. That they would be famous! That was amazing to me, but fame is a very tangible thing in the YouTube era. And because it's perceived as actually within reach, people desire it even more. Tens of millions of people tune into American Idol every week because they are entranced with the notion that any one of us with the talent and the desire can take the fast track up the career ladder and become a star.

Danger Mouse said screw the ladder.

He didn't ask for permission. He made something because it was cool. He put it up on the web and now he's famous. That, ladies and gentlemen, is today's American Dream.

He embodies the malleable nature of media
A fundamental shift happened with the advent of "Web 2.0" and social media: the internet effectively shifted from a series of static pages that we passively look at to an immersive experience that we actively engage with. The web today is a malleable object. And soon, all media will follow suit.

Music is no different. All you need is a Mac with GarageBand and you're a musician. Of course, like any creative endeavor it takes tremendous talent involved in doing it very well. 
Danger Mouse had that talent. But he didn't have a studio and producers and loads of expensive equipment. He had a Mac and GarageBand. And he mashed up a plate of genius.  

He embodies the collaborative world we live in
In their book, "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything," Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams describe a new economy where companies are taking advantage of a new collaborative world to foster innovation and grow their enterprises.

Brands like Procter & Gamble, BMW, Lego, Boeing, and Netflix are all actively going outside their walls to find new ways to innovate and better ways to produce their goods and services. These companies are pioneers of the collaborative economy.

Danger Mouse is a pioneer of the collaborative musiconomy.

Take a look at his resume:

  • 2004 - he puts out "The Grey Album"
  • 2005 - he produces a record for the Gorillaz
  • later in 2005 - he puts out "The Mouse and the Mask" with MF Doom under the moniker DangerDoom
  • 2006 - Gnarls Barkley releases #1 hit "Crazy" this a collaboration with Cee-Lo Green
  • 2007 - produces "The Good, the Bad and the Queen" with ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon, the Verve's Simon Tong and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen
  • 2008 - collaborates with The Black Keys
  • 2008, again - collaborates with Beck
  • 2009 - collaborates with Sparklehorse
  • 2010 - collaborates with Mercer
Notice a trend? This is guy is blazing trails everywhere he goes and in everything he does. Collaboration is not a special on the menu. It is the menu.

No one else in music this today is so dialed into everything that's shaping the cultural landscape today. 

Brian, you are making it happen. Keep it up.

And, Amanda says "hi."


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