Maybe it started with Danger Mouse, the producer who, shortly after Jay Z's 2004 "Black Album," dropped his own mashup with Jigga and the Beatles called "The White Album." Maybe it was his jazz trumpeter father. But in the clearest sense, Amerigo Gazaway's "Yasiin Gaye" project started one night when the 26-year-old producer was listening to Mos Def's tribute to Marvin Gaye, "Modern Marvel," from the rapper's 2004 album "The New Danger."
The resulting project is part of Amerigo Gazaway's "Soul Mates," a series that puts black artists in conversation with one another across generations and genres. In addition to "Yasiin Gaye," he's produced "Fela Soul" (Fela Kuti and De La Soul) and "Bizarre Tribe: A Trip to the Pharcyde" (Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest), and Gazaway plans to release side two of his Yasiin Bey and Marvin Gay project any day now. "I've really been a fan of people who just take you on a journey with their live set or their recorded music," Gazaway told me over the phone from his home in Nashville. Here, he talks about the thinking behind his mashups.
How long did "Yasiin Gaye"take you? It's a pretty detailed project.
It took me about four months or so to put everything together. There's a lot of research that goes into it. It's also about immersing yourself in the music and getting familiar with the songs again. There's a lot of time spent not just putting things together, it's collecting samples and resources to use, documentary stuff.
I noticed that you came out with the project and then you had to take it down. Was that because of copyright problems?
Yes, we received a takedown notice from the RIAA two days after the album came out. But we are working on side two and that should be coming out here shortly.
To me, the pairing of Marvin and the artist formerly known as Mos Def was really unique. What did the political messages that these artists were making mean to you?
With every mashup I do, I'm always seeking and searching for parallels and trying to connect the dots between the artists. With these two, the message in the music was an obvious parallel. It's funny because side two goes into that even further than side one. The first side is sort of the more upbeat, fun record, whereas side two gets into some more of the political messaging, and some darker themes. It's been an interesting project.
Tell me about the other mashups. Where did that idea come from for you? What influenced them?
It all started with the "Fela Soul" project that I did in 2011, which is the first mashup mixtape that I did. I was just getting out of [Middle Tennessee State University, studying digital media. So I studied a lot of computer stuff, video, graphics and audio. That definitely played a huge part in what I do.
A year after "Fela Soul," I did the "Bizarre Tribe," which is A Tribe Called Quest samples with Pharcyde lyrics. Combining these artists from different eras is just a really fun way to explore and listen to music.
You've got tons of fans. For instance, I know that Questlove is one. How did it feel to get a shout out from him?
That was awesome. He came through Nashville a couple years ago and I was just finishing up the "Fela Soul" project and I wanted him to hear it because I knew how much of a De La Soul fan he is. I managed to sneak into a show and hook him up with a CD. His shout out definitely played a huge part in my career and getting me started.
I've been thinking a lot about who has access archival materials in hip-hop and soul music and what role race plays into that. Do you feel at all conscious of the fact that you're not black and you're digging through the archives of this material?
I could say that I'm half Brazilian. [Laughs]. But I'm just a fan of black music. My dad's a jazz trumpet player so I've always been introduced to many different genres of music through him and I've always had the utmost respect for black music. I've never really thought about it outside of that. It's definitely interesting. It's interesting to watch the culture grow up and evolve. It's pretty exciting.
"Yasiin Gaye" (Full Album)
"Fela Soul" (Full Stream)
"Bizarre Tribe: A Quest to the Pharcyde," (Full Album)