Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Remixes of 2006

Thus begins my year-end lists of stuff. Expect singles and albums lists in the very near future and maybe even films down the road, whenever New Orleans theaters bother to screen movies I want to see--not to be bitter or anything.

I'll be focusing on rap remixes since that's normally what I write about, though I did enjoy many non-rap remixes this year, Gorillaz's "DARE (DFA Remix)" and The Knife's "We Share Our Mother's Health (Ratatat Remix)" being two that come to mind immediately.

Anyway, the rap remix occupies a unique place in hip-hop. It can serve as a second chance for a record that didn't get an extra push the first time around; it can be a calling card for the crowd with whom a rapper associates; it can be a pointless power play; it can be an extension of subject matter; it can be the buzz that turns a ditty to an anthem. This list includes a few of each type, but they all have one thing in common: they surpassed the original and vaulted it to a new level. In some way, they seem essential. When Diddy, the inventor of the concept, first confessed, "You know we had to do a remix on this one," he wasn't lying. (By the way, most of these remixes are pretty mainstream, and there's a reason for that: remixes are all about who you know.)


Chris Brown feat. Lil' Wayne- "Gimme That (Remix)"

Though I wish R&B remixes could move past the structure of rapper intro-singer verse-singer chorus-rapper verse-singer chorus, which this one is as guilty of as any, "Gimme That" is magnetic in all the ways Scott Storch productions usually aren't. Chris Brown's pubescent squeal is just right to shoulder a hook and string pattern as yearning as this one. I also like how he kind of stalls a round of "uh-uhs" for a half verse just because Weezy didn't feel like writing eight more bars. But make no mistake--once Lil' Wayne takes over, it's clearly his show. In what is probably the best distillation of 21st century fame I've heard, Wayne brags, "Ooo I think she like me/she got me on the ringtone." In the past you could be considered successful by owning a lot of possessions, now people have to incorporate you into the customization of their own possessions.

Boy can dance too.


T-Pain feat. Twista, Paul Wall, MJG, Pimp C, Too Short (plus Bun B and R. Kelly in some versions)- "I'm N Luv wit a Stripper (Remix)"

This re-working, beyond the more heavy-hitting bass, is most interesting as a sociology project. Turns out not everyone is in love with a stripper:

- T-Pain- Confusing "such a cute face and a booty so fat" with love once again, Mr. Pain. It's been the ruin of many a man.

- Twista- Uses "like" a lot but is pretty realistic (and tense shifting) when he claims, "Then she pulled my dick out and start suckin', all because I be the Twista." Probably with the experience T-Pain lacks, Twista has learned about feminine wiles and has cultured the lack of commitment so many successful men share. Twista believes that love can and will wait, but he's up for a lap dance in the mean time.

- Pimp C- I'm completely confused: "She be wantin' lay me, but I can't do too much of that...But I can show you how to get out there and get it." True to his name, Pimp C seems to be more concerned with making money from the titular stripper's tricks than making love to her himself. If that's love then it's on some complex Taxi Driver tip I wasn't expecting. Also, Pimp C has never been a good rapper. He couldn't stay on a beat if it were a chair and his ass was glued to it.
- Paul Wall- Of all the rappers, Paul Wall seems to be the most gullible and faggy, and the strippers probably love him for it: "I saw you in your birthday suit, and baby it was fate/when you gimme a lap dance it's like we're goin' on a date." His mixture of euphoria, disbelief, admiration, jealousy, and paranoia lead me to believe that he might actually be in love. He sounds unsure of himself here, and as juvenile as the rhymes are, for a song about strippers they're as emo as carving rainbows into your wrists. So far, if you're a stripper, you definitely want to dance on him more than Pimp C, unless he rubs his hands together and makes his rapist face, in which case all bets are off.

- R. Kelly- Kelly is probably also in lust, since he directs his verse to the stripper's posterior, as in "Gonna go down on my knees and ask that ass to marry me." Then, still speaking of the butt, he adds, "If I could, I'd put my whole damn head in it." That's a lot of things, but it's not love. Seems as if Kelly doesn't know a thing about amore, which I could have told you when I first heard "I Like the Crotch on You." Halfway through his contribution, he has a hilarious non-rhyme though. Also, I like that Robert pretty much raps in a lot of songs but doesn't feel the need to create a goofy alter-ego to do it.

- MJG- In an interesting development, MJG believes not only that he's in love, but that his love is unnatural and deserving of shame. He "needs some stripper counseling." Rather than his actual love, he toys with the consequences: "If I'm in here one more night, I'm gonna need Dr. Phil." Like Twista, he believes his relationship with the stripper is doomed, but he blames himself more than the temptress.

- Too Short- I hate Too Short. Always have. You remember when rap first caught on in the early '90s, and animated dogs were rapping in Burger King commercials and stuff? And we look back on it now and think it's corny? Too Short's rhymes are on the level of one of those cartoon dogs. Anyway, at first, he speaks of his admiration for the girl and her superiority to past acquainances. Soon after, he reveals that what he confused for love was just a desire to "fuck the baddest bitch in the club." To thine own self be true, fellas.


Lady Sovereign feat. Missy Elliot- "Love Me or Hate Me (Remix)"

I keep brainstorming analogies for the way this sounds, and this is the closest one that was still rejected: "Imagine Boston and the Sex Pistols performing "Why Can't We Be Friends?" together in early 1978, then go to sleep and--the next morning--try to reproduce what that sounded like using only an 808. No?

Anyway, I too find Sov obnoxious and doubt she'll be remembered as anything more than a novelty act, but whoever suggested she team up with Missy (probably co-sign Jay) should win...a private concert by Boston and the Sex Pistols. Also, saws in rap songs? Under. Rated.

Oh, the link has expired, but the day this premiered in the Bangers section of XXL Online was one for the ages. I never knew "What is this shit?" could be spelled so many different ways.


Ludacris feat. Young Jeezy, Lil' Wayne- "Grew Up a Screwup (Remix)"

If you notice a Lil' Wayne pattern here, then wait until you read the other lists. As far as guest verses go, he's basically the new Ludacris in that he's so confident in his punchlines he doesn't mind giving away an absolute gem on someone else's song. Since the torch is being passed, it only makes sense for him to show up on a track with Luda himself, who's no slouch on this track. After all, Wayne is "at their heads like crew-cuts." More than anything, beyond the fact that this even communicates the subject matter--that a G is born, not raised--better than the original, this sounds like three dudes having fun passing a mic around. It really is that simple.

Making fun of Snowman is easy, considering that he's incapable of sustaining a rhyme for more than two lines without the Kanye cheat of "mailman/mail, man," but he brings it here, especially in his second verse. The guy is growing on me, in part because no one else groans "nigguhhhhh" with such elan.

My one little gripe is the chorus, or lack thereof. Can we bury the "screwed up line repeated over and over in lieu of a real hook" with 2006? This one works, and it still sort of irritates me.


Beyonce feat. Ghostface- "Irreplaceable (Remix)"

The songs of B Day and their attendant greatness are inextricable from the woman singing them. A witty and sassy breakup song like "Irreplaceable," with its strum and airy, almost complimentarily bland, drums would have been a radio hit no matter who sang it. Its added significance comes from the fact that it's an emotionally true performance from a person who had been a robot before it. "Irreplaceable," along with the other in-love-but-confused songs of the album, seem to resonate because they come from a more relatable place than something like "Survivor." While her technical chops have never been in question, Beyonce rarely seemed like a real person before, and she makes a lot of headway with the immediate, stripped down B Day, until she explains at the album's close that she wrote the songs while imagining how her character in Dreamgirls felt. So not only is it an autobiographical condom-ripping, it's an ad too.
Even when we think we're getting to know her, we find out we're further off than ever.

So why not pair her with someone who couldn't be insincere for all the Wallabees in the world? Tony Starks, a guy who knows saying eight days is so much better than a week, cuts down the repetitive nature of B's verses and serves as the only rapper I can actually imagine washing dishes in his (one of his fifty, reportedly) robes. And then when he finishes, it leads straight into her luminous breakdown. Normally, I cringe at the word "irregardless," but Ghostface can say whatever he wants, and I wouldn't want it any other way.


Rich Boy feat. The Game- "Throw Some D's (Remix)"

It's refreshing to have a chorus that's both anthemic and not related to an ill-conceived dance move. That alone should put this on a pedestal for 2006, but then Rich Boy, who got a raw deal at the Name Factory, supplies a subdued ping-pong of a bassline and clenched teeth entitlement.

Game takes the wheel for the second verse and exhibits his ability to take something remarkably unclever yet twist it into something necessary with "Dukes of Hazard doors--in Compton we call 'em suicides." Actually, according to that, Comptonites are unfamiliar with either automobile design or the adventures of Bo and Luke, but he's so damn authoritative that it doesn't matter. If The Game told me the Holocaust never happened, I'd have to at least re-read Night.


UNK feat. Andre 3000 and Jim Jones- "Walk It Out (Remix)"
Lloyd feat. Andre 3000 and Nas- "You (Remix)"

Ever the defier of expectations, Andre Benjamin followed up his own album of pale, half-hearted rapping with his best rapping in years on two throwaway remixes. I don't get it either, but the line carryovers, the Whole Foods anecdotes, and the suggestion to "make your momma proud/take that thing two sizes down" are exactly what I want from him. It seems as if he's testing the waters, and I think fans will have no problem welcoming him back.

Here's the difference: when UNK tells me to walk it out, I grin noncommittaly, like I do when Dave Coulier tells me to cut it out. When Dre insists that I walk it out, I feel compelled to bounce on the balls of my feet, turn my knees in, and wander around with a baffling melange of purpose and aimlessness. (I don't know what I like more: the fact that people are walking it out, for whatever reason, in our nation's classrooms or the fact that there are 3366 results for "walk it out" on YouTube. If only we could get people to vote on a fucking president.)

I don't know what it is about walking it out or that recycled Spandau Ballet sample that fires him up, but I like it. He's so damn good. I can't believe it. I'm listening to ATLiens when I finish this.


Ghostface feat. Ne-Yo and Kanye West- "Back Like That (Remix)"

"We hit the spot to chill with a fugi grill/She ordered the kobe beef like Shaquille O'Neal/Second I walked in the whole room got still/I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal"


Rick Ross feat. Young Jeezy, Jay-Z- "Hustlin' (Remix)"

When listeners identify the remix as the definitive version of a song, you know it's successful. How many more people can quote "We don't resort to violence/we on resorts and islands" than "I'm into distribution--I'm like Atlantic/I got those muthafuckas flyin' 'cross the Atlantic"? A poo-ton, that's how many.

Jay's charity to Ricky is better than almost anything on Kingdom Come, and Jeezy acquits himself nicely here too with his armored truck quips. I have to say, even Ross replaces his shittiest lines with lines that are marginally less shitty. Best of all, they don't touch the structure of the indolently glorious beat by The Runners. This track stayed in my head for a several months, and it's thanks to their synth waves and snare pitter-pat.

However, I never really got that line "it ain't no coincidence that my age is a kilo." Does he mean that, rather than time, which is the way we mere mortals measure age, he measures it in units of mass? Even then, it would be quite a coincidence that his age was exactly a kilo, but he denies this. Does he mean that his age is the SI equivalent of a kilo, that is, 22.05 pounds, or, really stretching that metaphor, 22 years old? Because he's 38. A kilogram is one thousand grams, so is Jay-Z somehow one thousand years old? Is he Shang-Tsung? What does this mean?


The Game feat. Jim Jones, Snoop Dogg, Nas, T.I., Fat Joe, Lil' Wayne, N.O.R.E., Jadakiss, Styles P, Fabolous, Juelz Santana, Rick Ross, Twista, Daz, Kurupt, W.C., E-40, Bun B, Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, Olivia Newton-John, Young Dro, Clipse, Ja Rule- "It's Okay (One Blood [Remix])"

I can't quote one line of this near-twelve minute banger. Honestly, I can't even tell who's rapping at some points. No one says anything that hasn't been said a million times. But this track feels like something more. It's an event. It's like a hip-hop War and Peace but dumber and without patronymic names: its scope is the thesis.

Game thumbed through the address book of his Trapper Keeper (red scales with sparkles) and circled every name with whom he wasn't beefing (and even some who are borderline. Ja Rule? [I don't even think Game knows at the point who has run afoul of him--that pointless anger is part of his appeal.]) and got them to contribute about eight bars each. He did it all for you. And do you know why? Because he can. That's it. More is more.

Afroman- "No. Fuck it. I'm going to let him call me."

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