Salaam Remi is one of the most versatile producers in the game today. He’s worked with The Fugees, Amy Winehouse, Spragga Benz, and has been one of Nas’ go-to producers since the Stillmatic era, crafting bangers like “Made You Look” and “Get Down” on God’s Son.
More recently Remi produced “Nasty” and “The Don” as well as unreleased tracks like “Black James Bond” that are likely to make the cut for Nas’ latest album, Life Is Good. As part of our special Nas Week festivities we had to get with Remi to talk about the new album and the special creative chemistry he shares with Nasty Nas.
Interview by Robert Marriott (@Tafari)
Complex: I know you did quite a bit on the new Nas album. But you guys haven’t decided which records are going to be on it yet, right?
Yeah. Nas ultimately makes all the decisions about how he wants to shape the album, at the end. I just help in the creative process of whatever his vision may be, but he ties the package together, usually at the very last minute.
[Nas] called me, talking about 'Nasty.' He was like, 'How are you getting it to feel so old and still so young and vibrant?'
You did “Nasty” and “The Don,” right?
Yup. I did “The Don.” Heavy D had given me the original record that we used for it.
OK. So he gave you the sample, or you structured the record around it?
Actually, Hev called me during July 4th weekend, last year. Over the years, we had always been talking about doing some stuff, but we always knew each other in passing. [Nas] called me, he was talking about “Nasty.” He was like, “How are you getting it to feel so old and still so young and vibrant?”
A lot of people do stuff that has that ’80s energy to it or that energy from when hip-hop made you feel like you wanted to go wilding, in the late ’80s and early ’90s. You feel like that New York overzealous B-Boy, like you’re ready to go. Usually, it sounds a bit old. So he was just asking me, “Yo, how are you doing it to make me still feel like a kid again?”
That’s funny, because that was one of my questions. How do you create the nuance of it, not sounding like a nostalgic record, but still having the feel?
Honestly, it’s kind of like...Well, I’ll tell you what I told him [Laughs]. It’s one thing when you’re able to copy something, but when you’re from there, it’s always within you. So a lot of how I was approaching a lot of what I do with Nas—and even with those records—I was approaching it like, “This is the stuff I would have taped off the radio.”
Like, there’s so many songs that I taped off the radio that I never had the record of, but I had to have it on my tape. And whatever I had on my tape was what motivated me to get up and finish high-school, because I was going to listen to my tape in my Walkman all the way up the Q4 to Hillside to walk up the hill to Edison. Every day—brick, sleet, snow.
Oh, you was doing the Q4?
I was doing the 4, the 3A at the time...
You wasn’t even doing the vans? It was before the vans?
It was before the vans. I graduated high-school in ‘89, before the vans were popping. I got on the vans toward the end of it, but I had the nickel bus pass, all that straight New York City, '80s... [Laughs]. But at the same time, that was the motivation. You sat there during the weekend, you had your tape on pause, you taped what you knew.
So a lot of records I got up on through that energy, and that’s where you would hear Izzy Ice and DJ Majesty “Soul Man.” If you listened to Red Alert, you’d get some 45 King specials, you’d get some Jungle Brothers “Because I Got It Like That,” you’ll get all that type of stuff. You’ll get Chuck Chillout, Mix Masters... Yeah, there’s certain records. Chuck Chillout’s going to pay EST and Three Times Dope.
So a lot of times, that’s my mindset. If I’m listening to something, I’m like, 'Yo, would I give somebody a dollar for this, right now?' If I wouldn’t, get out of here.
Right, the Philly shit.
Exactly. He’s going to play Disc Masters, “Deuces is def, now say it louder,” Funkmaster with the Flex, when his name was... You know what you’re getting out of those. When you listen to [Marley Marl’s] In Control, come on, you have Juice Crew. You listening to Mr. Magic, Marley’s going to play “We Write The Songs,” the first version that he did at the crib. Let’s make a tape, they’re going to play it on the radio.
You had that energy. So a lot of times, that’s my mindset. If I’m listening to something, I’m like, “Yo, would I give somebody a dollar for this, right now?” If I wouldn’t, get out of here. I know the urgency that a lot of that music was made with.
Right, it’s not just what you listened to, but why you listened to it.
Why and just the feeling. A lot of times, at this point, people make records that are set for certain types of radio. I work off the feeling. The feeling that I associate with hip-hop is, soon as I got out of high-school—you know, my dad used to manage Chuck Chillout, and it was me and Funkmaster Flex. So we used to run around with Chuck, and Flex was in Deuces Wild.
So the feeling of popping the manila envelope open, putting the wax on the turntable, looking at it, backspinning and looking at the cover, while you see if—boom, is this record fit to be played? That’s the energy that I’m still looking for. The energy that you get being on 8th Street in New York, back in the days, on the first hot day, when all the girls would come out, and you’d be like, “I’m going to go by the store and catch me an NYU chick, real quick.” [Laughs.]
That energy of music. When the top came down or you’d open your sunroof, and you’ve got a Queens mix/blend-tape popping out of the sunroof, and you’re hearing that music popping, and you’re listening from a mile away, like, “Dag, I feel good,” that the music I associate with New York.
When I’m going there, I go there for real. That’s my perspective, personally. I’m doing it to motivate the DJ and to motivate the listener, and ultimately, they don’t have to know I exist. They just have to feel what’s coming out the other end of it, which is pretty much a mirror of my career, being a part of that.
[Heavy D] was like, 'Yo, here’s this Cat record, "Dance Inna New York." You ever heard it?' I’m like, 'Nah.' He’s like, 'Yo, I’ve never heard it before either. I’m going to send it to you. If you could find some way to flip this, I’m telling you, it would be crazy.'
So with “Nasty,” that’s what I told Hev. We were talking about the reggae stuff, and he was like, “Yo, here’s this Cat record, ‘Dance Inna New York.’ You ever heard it?” I’m like, “Nah.” He’s like, “Yo, I’ve never heard it before either. I’m going to send it to you. If you could find some way to flip this, I’m telling you, it would be crazy.”
I was like, “Alright, cool.” So he sent it to me, and I was listening to it, and Nas called me. So I was telling him what Hev said. He was like, “Wow, the Overweight Lover’s calling us about a record, and we used to be listening to him.”
So we were having that whole convo, and he was like, “What’s that? That’s Cat?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “Damn. It sounded like Cat said my name in that record.” I’m like, “Really?” But he’s on the phone now, like I’m talking to you now. And he’s telling me it sounded like he said his name.
So I’m like, “Really?” I rewinded it a little bit. I’m like, “Yeah, I kind of hear what you’re saying.” But if you listen to the song, it’s not obvious. It’s definitely not obvious. But he heard something, then I caught on and heard what he heard.