It’s Time for the Major Label Rap Remix to Die

RIP, remix. You had a good run.

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Complex Original

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A hot song drops. A Vine carries it nationwide. The artist blows up. The song infiltrates the Billboard charts. Scavengers drop freestyles over the beat. A deal is inked. A remix is announced. A video drops. The remix hits. It sucks. We forget it happened. It wasn’t always like this.

The hip-hop remix is a time-honored tradition that, in eras past, allowed an artist to explore angles on a popular song they hadn’t pursued the first time out, from production quirks teased out by different beatsmiths to thematic conceits pursued by additional guest rappers. They were events. The Coldcut remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s classic “Paid in Full” brought the group success in international markets the original LP hadn’t breached. Puff Daddy’s ODB-assisted Bad Boy remix of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” is so memorable we don’t discuss the original. The remix for Talib Kweli’s “Get By” united titans of the rap underground and mainstream in a manner presaging the scene-hopping rap collabs of this decade. But as times got tough for the mainstream rapper, and hits, harder to come by, the form and function of the rap remix changed.

When you got a popular beat you didn’t let it go, so the great hit producer reworking rap singles in bygone eras vanished (where they haven’t gone underground). Nowadays remixing a rap hit is largely a matter of soldering famous guests onto the original beat, of carefully distending the record without displacing the aspects that won it favor with a national audience. We’ve seen some successes. Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance” remix with 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne turned a dope mixtape cut into a platinum-selling strip club classic, and Drake- and T.I.-assisted remixes to Future’s 2011 mixtape smashes “Tony Montana” and “Magic” put the ATLien on the map early on. Whatever regional radio smash Drake and Nicki Minaj deem worthy of gifting a verse tends to blow sky high. A memorable turn from an A-list celebrity is often enough to float one of these a great distance, but not everyone can afford the heavy hitters.

as times got tough for the mainstream rapper, and hits, harder to come by, the form and function of the rap remix changed.

All too often the mainstream rap remix settles for a seemingly random allotment of marginally famous names and grizzled, savvy, 40-something businessmen adroitly seeking to attach themselves to a successful record to heat up a cooling buzz. When the cast of characters doesn’t make any logistical sense, their collaboration tends to take the shape of a ragtag sequence of phoned-in verses comically lacking in chemistry and/or appropriateness for the subject matter. The remix to YG’s “My Nigga” is cool, but it torches the friendship theme unifying the Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan version’s verses and chorus. The anticlimactic remix to Bobby Shmurda’s meteoric viral smash “Hot Nigga” was a bench-clearing of New York veterans without album release dates that killed the original’s wild-out brutality dead.

“More is better” is not working, and half the time unofficial freestyles pop crazier than whatever a label’s able to put together. Black Hippy burned a hole in “U.O.E.N.O.” Drake did justice to Soulja Boy’s “We Made It,” but Jay Z and Jay Electronica’s version came hunting for souls. As quietly kept as Lil’​ Kim’s poorly mixed “Hot Nigga” freestyle was, it was better than any guest rap laid down on the track (not counting the killer dancehall remix). T.I.’s Hustle Gang “Try Me” redo lays waste to the baffling Ty Dolla $ign and Remy Ma version Dej Loaf recently released. You’d think artists would workshop this stuff pretty solemnly in an era where every marginally popular beat is set upon by MCs like sharks to blood in water, but the rap remix continues to concern itself chiefly with leveraging star power where amassing good chemistry would suffice.

Once the exception, fascinating misfires are now the rule. It’s foolhardy to continue funneling money into remixes in deference to custom when a distressing majority of them fail to honor their chief function: extending the reach and popularity of the original. If they’re lucky they retire as supplementary bonus cuts on the album’s deluxe edition. (If they turn up on time. T.I.’s ace “About the Money” remix dropped after Paperwork hit stores.) Scores more languish forgotten on dusty hard-drives and under-appreciated YouTube pages. For every reimagining of a hit song that brought something truly special to the table there are 20 ill-remembered flops. What was once an event is now an afterthought. Why bother? It’s time for the major label rap remix to die. RIP The Remix. You had good run, homie.

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