Danger Mouse

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Danger Mouse

Music producer, DJ

The artist who calls himself Danger Mouse has released little music under that name. Danger Mouse came to public attention as the creator of The Grey Album, a widely circulated "mash-up" combining the music of rapper Jay-Z and classic rock group the Beatles. His renown increased when, as half of the duo Gnarls Barkley, he released the hit single "Crazy" in 2006.

Yet Danger Mouse is more than a producer of others' albums, and more than a hip-hop DJ who creates new beats and manipulates the recordings of others. Even as he collaborates with other artists, Danger Mouse has attempted to develop a unique musical vision. "Danger Mouse wants musical autonomy," wrote Chuck Klosterman in the New York Times. "He wants to be the first modern rock 'n' roll auteur, mostly because he understands a critical truth about the creative process: good art can come from the minds of many, but great art usually comes from the mind of one." Thus Danger Mouse, somewhat like British pop producer Brian Eno, has created music that, although it rarely bears his name, is very much his own. "I have to be in control of the project I'm doing," he told Klosterman. "I can create different musical worlds, but the artist needs the desire to go into that world."

Enjoyed "Danger Mouse" Cartoon

Danger Mouse was born Brian Burton in 1978, in suburban White Plains, New York, north of New York City. His father was a schoolteacher and his mother a social worker. Soon the family moved farther out to Spring Valley, New York, at the extreme northern reaches of the New York metropolitan area. Burton's family was one of only two African-American families in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. He grew up hearing the rock and pop music favored by his white classmates and took a liking to the outlandishly costumed metal bands Poison and Iron Maiden. His education in urban sounds came later, after the family moved to the hip-hop-rich Atlanta, Georgia, area when he was about 12. Burton's first career ambition was to become a comics artist, and as a child he had enjoyed a British cartoon, "Danger Mouse," that achieved cult popularity in the United States.

Enrolling at the University of Georgia in Athens, Burton hoped to study music but was told his playing skills weren't up to snuff. He settled on becoming a major in telecommunications. A second period of influence from rock music began when Burton heard the song "Wish You Were Here" by 1970s progressive rock band Pink Floyd in a bar around 1995. It was the first time he had heard Pink Floyd's music. "And I suddenly found myself wondering, Why have I spent all these years never listening to this music? And the reason was that I was afraid to do anything that would have seemed socially unacceptable," he told Klosterman. "I was afraid that people wouldn't think of me as this hip-hop guy, because hip-hop was my Thing." Burton worked at a local record store and began to mix recordings for independent Athens rock bands. He began to make a name as a party DJ, issuing his own hip-hop mixes and then two CDs of low-key dance music under the name Pelican City.

After becoming enamored of the downbeat trip-hop music of British electronic band Portishead, Burton headed for London. Many publications have reported that he graduated from the University of Georgia, but according to Marisa Brown of All Music Guide he was one course short of his degree. He got a job tending bar at a place called The Rose, and continued making demo recordings of instrumental samples, working alone in his apartment. The British label Lex noticed his unusual mash-up of Portishead's music with the raps of Nas, and signed him to produce several albums. Lex also put Burton in touch with Jemini, and the two began trading material. It was during this period that Burton began using the name Danger Mouse. In 2003 Burton returned to the United States and headed for New York to finish Ghetto Pop Life, released in September of that year.

Opened for Goodie Mob

Burton now began working on new music with Atlanta singer and rapper Cee-Lo (Thomas Calloway), formerly of the hit Southern rap group Goodie Mob. The two had met during Burton's student days in Athens, when Burton organized a group called Rhyme & Reason that entered a talent contest and won a slot as opening act for Goodie Mob and the wildly innovative Atlanta hip-hop ensemble OutKast. The two discovered a common liking for the music of Portishead and kept in touch. Before Burton got far into the project with Cee-Lo, however, he wandered down a side avenue that led to an act with profound musical repercussions.

While cleaning his room one night in late 2003, he was listening to the album The Beatles, commonly known as The White Album because of its all-white cover. He came upon a copy of The Black Album by rapper Jay-Z and was struck by the similarity of their titles. "I suddenly have this idea: I decide to see if I could take those two albums and make one song," he told Klos-terman, "just because of the names of the two albums and because they're perceived as being so different and because I've always loved [Beatle] Ringo Starr's drum sound." He had in hand, with the blessing of Jay-Z's label, a copy of the unaccompanied vocal tracks from The Black Album, and he became engrossed in what he was doing. "Those were 15-hour days, easily," he recalled in an article in the New Yorker. "I played The White Album through four times, listening for anything that I thought I might be able to use, and then I started pulling tiny bits off the album [with a digital sampler]. I was keeping track of the time, because I knew this was a strange kind of experiment, and at one point I saw that I had logged more than 200 hours."

Burton made 3,000 copies of the final product and mailed some of them out in December of 2003 to friends and colleagues. He took a holiday break and returned to his Los Angeles home to a torrent of e-mails and phone messages that marked the beginning of a massive burst of publicity. Burton had just called his creation The Black/White Album, but fans dubbed it The Grey Album. By the time the Beatles' EMI label served Burton with a cease-and-desist notice in March of 2004, more than a million copies of the album had been sold or downloaded from the Internet, and the name Danger Mouse had been repeated in countless newspaper and magazine articles.

For the Record …

Born Brian Burton in 1978 in White Plains, NY. Education: Attended University of Georgia, Athens, GA, majored in telecommunications.

Worked as party DJ and issued hip-hop mix CDs, Athens, GA, late 1990s; released two electronic instrumental CDs as Pelican City; moved to London, England, 2001; worked as bartender; returned to U.S., produced Ghetto Pop Life album for Jemini (issued under name DM & Jemini), issued so-called Grey Album mash-up of music by Jay-Z and the Beatles, 2003; with rapper MF Doom, formed Danger Doom, released The Mouse and the Mask, 2005; with rapper Cee-Lo, as Gnarls Barkley, released St. Elsewhere, 2006.

Awards: GQ magazine, listed among Men of the Year, 2004.

Addresses: Record company—Downtown Records, 73 Spring St., Ste. 504, New York, NY 10012. Website—Danger Mouse Official Website: http://www.dangermousesite.com.

The ban only gave the album a new burst of attention: a group of online activists called Downhill Battle organized hundreds of sites to offer the album for illegal download on a "Grey Tuesday" (February 24, 2004), and authorities were powerless in the face of such mass disobedience. The Grey Album crossed generational lines in its appeal, for fans of either Jay-Z or the Beatles tended to be mostly unfamiliar with the music of the other act and were delighted with the new resonances Danger Mouse added to their music. The Grey Album was not the first mash-up recording, but Burton developed the concept in greater detail than had previous artists.

Produced Gorillaz Album

The Grey Album also fulfilled its original intention of spotlighting Burton's production skills, and he remained busy in 2005. He joined with rapper MF Doom to form the duo Danger Doom, and they released the album The Mouse and the Mask, with music based on characters from the Cartoon Network cable television series Adult Swim. British rock star Damon Albarn hired Burton to produce the Demon Days album (also cartoon-linked) of his band Gorillaz, and the effort brought Burton a Grammy Award nomination for producer of the year. He also contributed beats to several smaller projects.

Burton's most ambitious effort, however, was his collaboration with Cee-Lo, which took on the name Gnarls Barkley. Both have insisted that the name has nothing to do with that of National Basketball Association forward Charles Barkley; rather, Burton has said, it came from a brainstorming session with friends who were trying to make up fanciful celebrity names. Burton honed a repertoire of beats inspired by 1960s and 1970s pop and psychedelia, while the two discussed song ideas based around themes of sanity and insanity. From these conversations, Cee-Lo developed lyrics to match Burton's beats. Formerly known for hip-hop, Cee-Lo mostly sang rather than rapped, revealing a voice steeped in Southern soul tradition. The album St. Elsewhere had hip-hop influences but mostly lacked the rap element, and it did not fall readily into rock, soul, or funk categories even though it had aspects of all those musical types. Klosterman wrote that it "was constructed differently from the vast majority of mainstream rock 'n' roll albums," while Brad Revare of the Kansas City Star called it "the most innovative album in hip-hop since OutKast's Stankonia."

The single "Crazy," a pleasantly psychedelic song joining Burton's Motown-like beats to Cee-Lo's mind-expanding lyrics ("I remember when I lost my mind/There was something so pleasant about that phase"), became the first song in British musical history to reach the number-one chart position purely on the strength of Internet downloads. The St. Elsewhere album, named after a 1980s television drama series, reached the top of Britain's album sales chart, and by July of 2006 it had cracked the top ten in the United States as well. Burton and Cee-Lo, backed by a crew of 12 other musicians, went on tour as Gnarls Barkley, appearing at the Coachella Music Festival in California with Cee-Lo costumed as the Cowardly Lion. Burton was ranked as one of popular music's most imaginative young figures by that time, and critics and music buyers were paying close attention to what he might come up with next.

Selected discography

(As producer and collaborator) Danger Mouse & Jemini, Ghetto Pop Life, Lex Records, 2003.
(As producer) Prince Po, Slickness, Lex Records, 2004.
(As producer) Gorillaz, Demon Days, Virgin, 2005.
(As producer) Busdriver, Fear of a Black Tangent, Mush, 2005.
(As producer and collaborator, with Cee-Lo, as Gnarls Barkley) St. Elsewhere, Downtown, 2006.



Austin American-Statesman, May 13, 2004, p. 31.

Buffalo News, March 31, 2004, p. N4.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 20, 2006.

Dayton Daily News, June 23, 2006, p. GO3.

Denver Post, February 27, 2004, p. FF01.

Entertainment Weekly, October 14, 2005, p. 152.

Houston Chronicle, June 18, 2006, p. 6.

Kansas City Star, May 25, 2006.

New Yorker, February 9, 2004, p. 24.

New York Times, May 8, 2006, p. E4; June 18, 2006, Magazine section, p. 40.

Observer (London, England), March 7, 2004, p. 13; April 23, 2006, p. 17.

Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), June 1, 2006, p. E8.

Sunday Times (London, England), May 28, 2006, p. 19.


"Danger Mouse," All Music Guide, http:/www.allmusic.com (July 7, 2006).

"A Game of Cat and Mouse," Creative Loafing Atlanta, http://www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A14551 (July 8, 2006).