The Anatomy of a Web Hit: Wallpaper's Autotuned Mash-Up of Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune" Explodes, Subsides
About three weeks ago, Oakland's Wallpaper (signed to L.A. indie Eenie Meenie), made headlines by remixing Jay-Z's "Death Of Autotune" and AutoTuned Jigga in the process. Wallpaper's primary songwriter Eric Frederic has long used AutoTune satirically under the guise of his frontman alter-ego Ricky Reed. His reworking of the Jay-Z single actually mashes "99 Problems" into mix as well, resulting in the eventual kill line: "I've got 99 problems but my pitch ain't one."
Frederic's been one of my best friends for nearly 15 years, so I found myself strangely intertwined with the plot to take the track viral. Here's how it all went down, from seed to sun, in less than a week.
Saturday, June 13: We were at the Key Club. Wallpaper had opened for Datarock; drinks were flowing. A mutual friend suggested Frederic remix "D.O.A." The conversation moved on.
Tuesday: Not 36 hours had passed before Frederic called. He was going to do it. A quality a cappella of Jay's "D.O.A." vocal hadn't yet surfaced, so he'd decided on the mash-up. I gave him a couple of suggestions for the chorus, but we got off the phone stumped as to how to tie the two songs together.
"I actually agree with Jay-Z's premise," says Frederic two weeks later. "I don't believe there's a legit rebuttal to that song. Thus, I wanted to approach it the way Ricky Reed, a proud AutoTuner, would: 'Yeah, I use it. Because I can't sing well. Ha!'"
Wednesday: By 9 a.m., Frederic had sent me an MP3 with the "pitch" line that'd somehow eluded us. A second message went out to about 30 friends: "The remix is unauthorized; Eenie Meenie can't help; we're going rogue." I rehosted the track on my website. We tweeted. We emailed. Within hours, BBC Radio 1's Rob Da Bank was emailing me for downloading instructions, and Boing Boing became the first blog to jump. The jury was in: the track was a banger.
"I finished it in about four hours, at 6:30 a.m.," Frederic says. "Most electronic dudes use [the computer program] Reason; I never learned it. I made the beat from 808 samples, and played the [many-layered] guitar parts until it became this monster riff. It's worth noting that I went huge on the Red Bull."
Thursday: Due to our combined efforts - and receding buzz surrounding Frederic's live sax-blaring remix of Das Racist's "Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell" (see below) - word spread to the front pages of Pitchfork, Idolator, The Guardian and music news aggregator The Daily Swarm. By the end of the day, my humble work blog - still the MP3's only home - had experienced a 3500% hits bump.
Friday: MTV News ran an "Exclusive" interview with Frederic, giving him overdue credit for the ear-worming Das Racist track, which one of the site's authors had profusely praised (without mentioning Wallpaper) the week before. RCRD LBL rehosted the download, destroying the good thing I had going. In the coming days, a few smaller sites will publish blurbs, but the wave had crested.
"That was really fun," says Frederic. He's right; it was. "Without any paid promotion or marketing people, we managed to get the track just about everywhere I would have wanted it to go."
He's since completed a mini-tour with Thunderheist, weathered a couple of label meetings about his upcoming album (Doodoo Face, due September 22), and banged out a soon-to-be released collaboration with Jacob Cooper from the Mae Shi. I ask him if the Jay-Z stuff already feels like ancient history.
"Yeah, in a sense," he says. "When you're writing albums you're trying to make a lasting stamp on time, but these sorts of things are like news headlines. You're just trying to capture a moment, interrogate it and move on. I'm on to the next thing."