Danger Mouse and Jemini

Sometimes it ain’t what you say but how you say it. Case in point: the title track off Ghetto Pop Life, the freakishly good debut LP from oddball hip-hop producer Danger Mouse and his relatively obscure MC collaborator, Jemini. I got a bullet in the clip, so whatcha want? goes the opening verse. I got a lyric I can spit, so whatcha want?/I’m giving bitches good dick, so whatcha want?/Hey, hey, so whatcha want? Not exactly groundbreaking stuff. But when those lyrics are not rapped but sung, and sung not by this week’s Ashanti but by a full church choir cryptically dubbed the London Ghetto Pop Choir, it’s at least unusual. The fact that it works so damn well as a lead-in to a more traditional mix of the same song is more than that — it’s remarkable. But then, Danger Mouse is clearly not your average hip-hop producer. Raised in the not-terribly-mean streets of Westchester, New York, and Athens, Georgia, the twentysomething Woody Allen buff named himself for a British cartoon rodent and began wearing a giant, furry mouse outfit. Yeah, he’s a little cracked.

Thing about Danger Mouse, though, is that he’s much more than the sum of his eccentricities. DM — Brian Burton to his mom — has a genius for production and a fondness for offbeat vocal samples and bits of conversation as musical ordnance. DM manages to cobble those disparate bits and pieces into something odd and special. Contagious hooks abound: insidious little bass lines and infectious backing vocals evident on, say, “Don’t Do Drugs,” the ostensibly pro-pill anthem that combines cartoonish jazz samples with lines such as Whitney’s chillin’/Bobby’s chillin’/Let’s get high, ’cause we love the feelin’.

Set against this backdrop, Jemini would seem an odd partner, what with his devotion to some of hip-hop’s greatest clichés. But Jemini’s clichés rise above; his bravado is genuinely funny, and “Bush Boys” — sitting-duck target notwithstanding — manages a level of sophistication not generally seen in protest lyrics. But Ghetto Pop Life isn’t about Jem. Hip-hop bestows celebrity and legend on its best producers. You have the Neptunes and Timbaland and RZA and Paul and El-P, to name a few. And now, to name one more, you have Danger Mouse.

Categories: Music