Without Him -- or Them

Internet mashers give new, weird lives to Eminem's "Without Me"

What bubbles through the veins of the online underground eventually trickles into the mainstream, and by the time the New York Times comes sniffing around, the trend is usually past its expiration date. Yesterday's Brand New Thing is today's forgotten fad. Seems like only yesterday we were praising Freelance Hellraiser's miraculous mash-up -- "A Stroke of Genius," which features Christina Aguilera singing "Genie in a Bottle" over the Strokes' "Hard to Explain," with nary a note or beat altered -- and now we discover the fad is finished, or so rags like Spin and Britain's Uncut would have us believe.

But the fact is, the spotlight has only illuminated a cavernous underground, where bedroom DJs sit and spin their Frankenstein creations, taking the words from one song and fusing them with music from another. Take this monstah: "Bring the Music," which merges the lyrics from Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" with the music of M's "Pop Muzik," resulting in the whitest brand of militant rap, uh, ever. Or "Wonderwoman," which grafts the melody of Oasis's "Wonderwall" to Lil' Mo's low-key rap single "Super Woman," rendering it Britpop by way of Strong Island. As the mashers' proponents like to point out, these are amazing songs not because they merely fuse the previously incompatible, but because they render the familiar brilliantly brand-new -- and they do so without losing integrity. This isn't just a novelty, a cynical P. Diddy remix, but a wondrous love affair that gives birth to a beautiful baby.

(Quick aside to point out obvious irony: It's considered genius when "Roy" Hellraiser or one of his plugged-in peers commits this copyright transgression, but when Mariah Carey sings over Tom Tom Club, she's called out for being lazy. And no, this mash-'em-up "movement" does not consider "Ice Ice Baby" as its linchpin, though maybe it should.)

But as evidenced by the treasures constantly being unearthed at the Brit-based Boom Selection (www.base58.com/booms), there's still plenty of gold left in the mine shafts, plenty of cutting and pasting and mashing left to do, now that everybody's in on the secret. The subculture has moved out of the basement and out to the pool: As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2-- credited to 2 Many DJs and featuring such "collaborations" as Emerson, Lake & Palmer groovin' "Peter Gunn" to Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" and the Stooges pushin' it with Salt 'N Pepa -- is the album of the year, if not ever. Same goes for The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever, a best-of compilation that finds Destiny's Child in Nirvana -- and the audience, too, for that matter.

The boom in the boot culture also has brought us a dozen or so of the best singles of 2002 -- all of which happen to be Eminem's "Without Me," sort of. Steve Mannion and the fine folks at Boom Selection were kind enough to post to their site a cappella and instrumental versions of Marshall Mathers' hit, which would-be Hellraisers can download for a little mix-and-match mayhem. This has made Em one unhappy rapper: "I think that shit is fucking bullshit," he has said. "Whoever put my shit on the Internet, I want to meet that motherfucker and beat the shit out of him." Ooh, how veddy nice of him.

Thus far, some 30 versions of "Without Me" have made it to the Boom Selection's site (www.base58.com/withoutme), most of which are kinda sloppy and kinda crappy -- say, that version that matches it with Human League's 1981 hit "Don't You Want Me." Great concept, poor execution. But for every bust or two, there's a brilliant hit single you'll never hear -- on the radio, at least, as record companies have proved they have no interest in these remixes hitting the stores or the airwaves. (When a London radio station tried playing "A Stroke of Genius," Aguilera's publisher promptly issued a cease-and-desist order -- which is a shame, since it's the best thing she's ever, or never, done.)

Astonishingly, Em goes well with just about everything: Wings and Hall & Oates, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley, Blondie and Prodigy. He's one-size-fits-all, plug-and-play, a man for all genres. Some are oddities you'll listen to once or twice but never revisit -- the take that fuses Eminem with Stereolab or the one that finds Mathers rapping over Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen," both of which are busier than a Manhattan hooker during Fleet Week. Some are cool little novelties, precious jokes but not much more; one, which is way too short, lifts only the lyrics about Moby and layers them over a snippet from his "Natural Blues." And then there are the obvious choices: U2's "With or Without You," which becomes "With or Without Me" (haha), for starters.

The best of the lot let the lyrics play out in their entirety yet somehow recast "Without Me" in someone else's image. Their creators -- who go by such names as The Toxteth Crusher, Spaced Ghost, B.R.K., and Denboy (surprisingly, none is called Lives in Parents' Basement) -- barely touch the lyrics (no slowing down or speeding up to keep pace with the beat) yet make it sound entirely unique.

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