If The Beatles And Beastie Boys Had A Beautiful Baby: 'Ill Submarine'
Wednesday night in Atlanta, dj BC (also known as Bob Cronin) posted “Ill Submarine,” his third album since 2004 mashing up tracks from The Beatles and the Beastie Boys, to his website. The idea this time was to gather up all the a capella tracks the Beastie Boys have released and “use every track I have remaining,” he says. “It will be my last hurrah.”
“The Beastles” grabs you with the “smile factor” of how wonderfully neatly The Beatles’ and the Beastie Boys’ names can be merged. Then the music begins with “No Sleep Til The Sun Comes Up,” which sends The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” surging forward by mixing in The Beasties’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn.” It ends 20 tracks later with “Penny Lane Shazam,” which infuses the Beasties’ “Shazam!” into The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” to give the rappers a melancholy, psychedelic vibe.
But the project is not just a gag, it’s complex and catchy musically too—the sweetness of the Beatles’ famous melodies seasoned by the bite of the Beasties’ punk and hip-hop braggadocio.
“One of the things I strive for is to be surprising and to use it in a new way,” Cronin says. “It throws the vocal into a different context. Like ‘Mother Nature’s Rump’ or ‘Say It, Martha.’ It has that really pretty Beatles thing. It brings edge to the Beatles with the Beastie Boys, and maybe makes the Beastie Boys a little more emotional or poignant.”
Cronin grew up in Wrentham and North Attleboro, Massachusetts. He began making low-fi, 4-track, “sample-based” hip-hop while in college in Florida the 1990s. He returned to Massachusetts for stints in Cape Cod and Allston-Brighton, before living for about a decade in Somerville.
“The concept of mashup goes way back, depending on how you define it, to [novelty records by] Dickie Goodman in 1950s,” Cronin says. But around 2004, he says, “before I knew what was happening, my computer could handle manipulated sound.” This new availability and ease of digital music editing software launched a new generation of the mixing. Before you knew it MTV was broadcasting “Ultimate Mash-Ups.”
Cronin shared his work and got in touch with other mashup artists via the community gathered online at the website “Get Your Bootleg On.” (Cronin says “bootleg” in this context was British slang for mashup.) In 2004, he released “Whatcha Want, Lady?,” his first Beatles-Beastie Boys remix combining The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” with the Beasties’ “So What’cha Want.” And the Beastles were born.
“I knew their music intimately. In both cases, I’d basically memorized the albums over a number of years,” Cronin says. “They’re both bands that transcend their genre. … I also knew that they were popular and people would want to hear it.”
“It got a great response,” Cronin says. “So I started working on an album.”
This was around the time that Danger Mouse released “The Grey Album,” an underground album mashup of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” with The Beatles’ “White Album,” that blew up big in early 2004—in part because of efforts by EMI, the Beatles’ label, to have it suppressed because Danger Mouse did not have legal rights to use the Fab Four tunes.
Cronin himself has remixed tracks by Radiohead, Philip Glass, The Fugees, Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, and many others. In his 2012 album “Another Jay on Earth,” which blended Jay-Z and Brian Eno, he says, “you sense self-doubt in Jay-Z’s bragging. He sounds like he’s sad about the plight of African-American males.”
The legal rights to these samples are, well, complicated. The Beastie Boys’ second album, “Paul’s Boutique” from 1989, included a number of Beatles samples without permission. But record labels and courts clamped down on how much music could be borrowed before payment was required—or it was considered theft. Despite these restrictions and music industry enforcement, rappers like Jay-Z and the Beasties released vocals-only versions of their tracks to encourage remixes by fans.
“The Gray Album,” Cronin says, “was part of the inspiration for” his first album of Beastles remixes which he released at the end of 2004 under the title “dj BC presents The Beastles.” He says he included his stage name in the title because “I knew it was going to float away and I wanted to get credit for it. You’re not getting paid. You’re just doing it for the satisfaction.”
In the first three weeks, it attracted something like 115,000 hits online and radio play from New York to Paris to Scotland. Cronin says Rolling Stone magazine got in touch and said, “call us when EMI calls” with a cease-and-desist demand. But “EMI never called.” Instead Rolling Stone reviewed the album, he says, and “I’m proud to say I got the same number of stars as U2 and more stars than 50 Cent in that issue.”
Via the international music community on “Get Your Bootleg On,” Cronin found another local mashup maven, Luke Enlow (also known as LenLow), who it turned out to live a couple blocks from him in Somerville. “We met at Johnny D’s for a beer and then we started a mashup night called Mash Ave.” at River Gods in Cambridge in November 2004. They eventually renamed it “Bootie Boston,” becoming a local franchise of the international “Bootie” mashup dance parties. (It continues monthly at Good Life in Boston.)
Cronin followed up “The Beastles” with “Let It Beast” in 2006. “Within like a week I got an email from EMI’s legal department,” he says. “They basically said take it down or there will be legal action. As a broke, terrified guy with no legal help, I said, ‘I’ll take it down when I get home from work.’”
Cronin moved from Somerville to Atlanta in August 2011, looking for more affordable living for his growing family (now with three kids). There he’s launched an Atlanta outpost of “Bootie.”
In 2012, Cronin says, “when [the Beastie Boys’] Adam Yaunch died I thought it would be a good time to rerelease them [The Beastles]. The whole landscape had changed. It’s not a new tradition they’re trying to squelch. … It’s the way people experience music.”
So Wednesday, he posted his new “Ill Submarine” album to his website. Cronin has plans for giving away art prints related to the album, and maybe T-shirts. He stresses, “One of the things I really want to stay away from is selling anything.”
Nowadays music labels are releasing multi-tracks and holding remix competitions, but that doesn’t mean he’s legally in the clear. He says, “It’s not really worth it to sell things like that.”