Taking Off Your Cool: The Remix Edition


The remix as defined by Wikipedia…. “A remix is an alternative version of a song, different from the original version. A remixer uses audio mixing to compose an alternate master recording of a song, adding or subtracting elements, or simply changing the equalization, dynamics, pitch, tempo, playing time, or almost any other aspect of the various musical components. Some remixes involve substantial changes to the arrangement of a recorded work, but many are subtle, such as creating a “vocal up” version of an album cut that emphasizes the lead singer’s voice. A song may be remixed to give a song that was not popular a second chance at radio and club play, to create a stereo version of a recording that was previously only available in mono sound, to improve the fidelity of an older recording in which the original mixdown tape has been lost or degraded, or to alter a song to suit a specific music genre or radio format.”

Truth be told, the remix was one of the main reasons I got into one of my deepest loves, DJing. I was amazed at the art of these auditory technicians deconstructing everything I thought I knew about some of my favorite tracks; just to build them up into something more amazing and layered then it started. You’d think the original was a piece of work. Then a sick tactician of the turntable or a hungry producer comes along and tells you, “Fuck you, I got something for that”. They say good music is all in the interpretation and nothing proves that more than the remix.

You’d think the remix would be highly coveted in a day and age where CD’s move like they got Anthrax packaged inside. Remixes have been known to put extra steam on even the most anticipated of albums [R.Kelly has been making a career off of hot remixes] and to turn okay singles into banger status [You think Biggie’s “One More Chance” was that nice originally? No comparison].

I know what you’re saying.

“Jamar, what you mean that the remix is dead?! They remixed “A Milli” like 50-leven times!”

Perhaps I need to be clear about how I define a remix. Yes, the remixes where new rappers are added or the main artist changes his verses are good. They’re needed and in some cases, turn chicken shit into chicken salad. I don’t even pay the original “Dey Know” mind when the hulked up version dropped featuring Wayne, Plies, and Jeezy; it was just a better version by far. I’m talking about the good ol’ days when the song would sound like an alternate reality of what you loved before. I remember cruising with my brother back home around that 9PM hour, back when Power would have the fresh DJ mixes, and they dropped the “Vivrant Thing” remix on my head. I was astounded.

“Vivrant Thing” is one of my favorite Q-Tip songs ever, and among my top ten favorite rap songs ever. Nothing touched it at that time for me. Then I heard the Violator remix of it featuring Missy and Busta and I was floored. The bass hit harder, the drum patterns changed just enough, the verses were wilder. Even the hook changed up with Tip alternating between “viv-a-rent” and “vivrant”. But it was still what I knew, what I loved. Justice done to the source material, but an enjoyable re-imagination of an already good thing.

In a way, a good song is something like a relationship. Lasting relationships have points where your partner displays surprises and changes that draw you back in; making them almost new again, sometimes completely fresh. Like cheating on your girlfriend WITH your girlfriend. Let that sink in for a second.

A strong remix is like when you lady (or guy, for our female readers out there) changes her hair to something sexier than what it started. Or when she takes a step in a new direction you would have never guessed, for the better. Or the best case; when she evolves into something greater than when she started. Same thing with our music.

I see the “remix” today as almost lazy. It’s a general lack of vision in a time where vision is already looked down upon and severely lacking in the Hip-Hop genre. If you take a look at one of our contemporaries, techno music (beep-bop-beep-boop-bop music to some, wake up music for me.), they have songs that stay classics for decades while we’re hard-pressed to remember hot tracks from a few years ago. Why is that? The thing to learn from techno is they have a passionate community and set of artists that aren’t afraid to reinterpret upon reinterpretation of their music. Remix upon remix that keeps a worthy original alive and well, stimulating a new set of listeners while educating them to a track they weren’t there to discover when it was fresh.

The technology is as good as it’s ever been. The mixtape game is booming and a standard of this stage of Hip-Hop. DJ’s and producers are no longer background, but main players and reasons to buy an album based on name value alone. So why am I getting the word rearranged on the same old beat I’ve heard a million times? Is it wrong to want better for my art by having them do something we did better than ANYONE just a few years back?

When I started taking notice that Hip-Hop was growing a little by-the-numbers; I knew the transition was complete when the full-bodied remix died too. Now, artists are too scared to take a chance on what proved itself a sure thing and won’t challenge themselves (or someone else) to attempt something magical. Admittedly, there are some terrible remixes out there just like there are terrible remakes of classic movies. But haven’t the hits been worth more than the misses? I’ve got a challenge for you. Pull up your favorite file-sharing or Bit-Torrent related program.

I’ll wait.

-hold music plays-

Good. I need you to download Paid in Full by Eric B. and Rakim. Really LISTEN to that song, a Hip-Hop classic if there ever was one by two greats in the game.

Now I need you to download “Paid in Full (Colduct Remix)”. Listen to THAT. Tell me that song doesn’t tap a nerve in your soul somewhere? A marriage of obscure sounds, scratch, quotes, and yet still grounded in the story of trying to get those dead presidents.

That’s what I’m talking about. It’s all I’ve been getting at by writing this. I want to be shocked and amazed at what I thought I knew about Hip-Hop. We’ve got talented producers like Terry Urban, Mick Boogie, Ape Blends, and many more that are mashing and remixing some class stuff these days in an effort to give us new ways to enjoy our sound; even making it accessible to people who normally wouldn’t care to hear it. For you Jay-Z fans out there, go out of your way to listen to Viva La Hova. A mashing of Coldplays classics with Jay-Z’s bravado and intricate storytelling, you may find a new favorite band and earn greater appreciation for one of rap’s elder statesmen.

As much as I’ve noticed how the rap community is all about what’s hot at the moment, lets take notice of keeping our heat preserved and remembered so they can EARN those ‘classic” titles being tossed around with little concern. The remix isn’t a solution to what I’m stating, but It’s an enjoyable aid on the path towards it.

Want more from what you enjoy and you just might get it.

I’ll just keep writing waiting for the day Hip-Hop lets her hair down and gives me a new reason to fall in love with her. She shows me from time to time. Can she show me more often?

-Listens to “Luv 2 Luv U (Remix)”, wondering-