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This is the Remix!: When the Remix is Better than the Original

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Okay so P. Diddy didn’t actually invent the remix.

No shit.

He was probably not even born yet when Tom Moulton began doing dance remixes in the late 1960s, and wasn’t even ten years old by the time pioneering DJs and producers like Walter Gibbons, Tee Scott, Larry Levan, Shep Pettibone, and François Kevorkian were already deeply ensconced in remixing disco records. So, sorry, Diddy.

But it’s true that over the next fifteen to twenty years, particularly in the 1990s, Diddy and his Bad Boy Records production crew (aka The Hitmen) would have a hand in some truly great remixes, many of which were major improvements upon already popular songs from artists like 112, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Total, Usher, and Jennifer Lopez.

And it’s not just Diddy either — far from it. The remix has been prevalent in hip hop music since the genre’s inception, as DJs would essentially “re-mix” tracks (sometimes without even knowing what they were doing) by extending the breaks or most danceable portions of the records in order to satisfy the breakdancers and b-boys of the day. And the tradition of remixes in hip hop has stayed strong to this day — only growing stronger and more common with the advent of the mixtape (thanks DJ Clue, Green Lantern, Whoo Kid et al.) — as almost every track released seems to be followed by an “official” remix, along with a few other “unofficial” remixes (often just the same beat with a different rapper spittin’ on it) from various mixtapes and websites.

But what I’m most interested in is when the remix clearly becomes better and more popular than the original track itself, and not solely in the world of hip hop. Sometimes this means a complete overhaul of the track, as with Usher’s “Love In This Club (Part 2 Remix)” or “Everyone Nose” by CRS & Pusha T., and sometimes it just means adding some guest verses, as in Day26’s “Got Me Going” remix, which simply adds verses from Fat Joe and Rick Ross. (Note: the song is still lame, but not as lame).

So even though we’re not gonna hit them all — and they definitely won’t all come from the Bad Boy camp — I’d like to throw out some of the best examples of what I’m referring to, some classic, some current. Hopefully y’all can add some more to this list. Now this is not to say that the originals were bad in any way, most were already hot, just that they were eventually eclipsed by their respective remixes.

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Quick Hits: Day26 – Day26

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So typically we use the “Quick Hits” format for newly acquired music that we like and feel like sharing with others or just generally talking about. But I need to flip the script a little bit, even if only just for today.

I’ve written extensively about artists that I like — or at least whose music I find to be new or interesting or meaningful — in almost every post thus far. I didn’t want to contribute too much to the ever-snarky “this sucks” culture of today, which seems particularly prominent when it comes to blog culture. But I gotta say something about Day26 and their debut album, the cleverly titled, Day26:

This sucks.

I mean honestly, this was supposed to be the next R&B super-group, which Diddy (whom I grew up with, like, and admire) and MTV spent years crafting — holding auditions all over the country and synthesizing the thousands of hopefuls and wannabes into the five men you see sitting before you who already look dressed for their own funeral. And yet, I found myself listening to the album and thinking, Seriously? This is it? This is the best Diddy could come up with? With all of America as his talent pool. And on top of all that, Diddy, you decide to saddle them with this absurd name, Day26 (no spaces, please). Why, man, why?

I was really looking forward to having a good, old-school, all-male R&B group that could really sing again. Well you can forget that idea. If you were waitin’, it ain’t here yet. Forget about the next New Edition, the next Jodeci, or the next Boyz II Men. Day26 is maybe the next All-4-One — maybe (come on, “I Swear” was a great song) — but they aren’t even the next 112. (Who had some really legitimate shit, by the way: “Only You,” “Cupid,” “It’s Over Now,” “Peaches & Cream,” “Dance With Me,” etc.). The passion and charisma just isn’t there with these dudes.

And the bitch of it is, Day26 has probably had more advantages in releasing their first album than any group in R&B history, accept for maybe Diddy’s other “Making the” band, female “super-group,” Danity Kane. Between the insane amount of near-constant publicity from four seasons of MTV’s Making the Band show, and album production almost exclusively by top-flight producers (Bryan-Michael Cox, Danja, and The Hitmen), it’s no wonder that Day26 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart — anything less would have been serious under achievement considering the coattails on which they’re riding.

Despite the hot initial album sales, the group’s first single, “Got Me Going,” hasn’t exactly been a smashing success, peaking at number seventy-nine on Billboard’s Hot 100, and number thirty on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart. This could be due to the fact that, like the group itself, the song is just pretty damn lame. It seems entirely possible that what Day26 is truly suffering from is over-design, over-production, over-coaching, and over-exposure. In other words, the build up was so extreme, there was simply no way the ends could justify the means.

If you opt to check out any Day26 tracks, I’d go with “I’m The Reason,” a percussion-driven joint reminiscent of Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath,” or “Since You’ve Been Gone,” an unsatisfying attempt at the standard “Oh baby I miss you so much but now I’ve changed” R&B ballad.

But I don’t particularly recommend it.

– Jonathan

Day26 Official MySpace

Quick Hits: TQ – Paradise

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So tomorrow, April 29th, marks the long-awaited (by some) return of crooner TQ to the R&B game, as he releases his 4th official album, Paradise (EMI 2008). To remind those who may have forgotten — or to inform those who weren’t paying attention — it was 1999 when TQ burst onto the R&B scene with his first single, “Westside,” a soulful homage to the West Coast hip hop scene and its most representative rappers, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and Tupac Shakur.

TQ was a rather unique commodity when he first arrived in ’99, one of the few proprietors of what might best be described as “Thug R&B,” paving the way for artists like Jaheim. His lyrics told street-worthy stories and used street-worthy language to do so. In fact, it was likely the hip hip vernacular TQ employed on “Westside” that kept the street anthem from climbing the U.S. charts. In other words, TQ was quite the departure from the then-popular R&B of K-Ci & JoJo, Usher, and Next, who hit big with “All My Life,” “You Make Me Wanna,” and “Too Close,” (aka the bane of high school principals everywhere) respectively.

After a few early spins of Paradise, it’s clear that TQ hasn’t abandoned his signature Thug R&B style, which is good to hear, as the album opens with the title track, “Paradise”: I grew up in the middle of a war zone, in a place where all reasoning was long gone / California dreamin’ was nightmares, and it shook a nigga straight to the bone. The second track, “Soulja,” follows the same road: This is the story, of a soldier / Cuz it takes one, just to know one / And it’s no fun, gotta fight on, like the Trojans / Come on holler if you hear me tonight. And of course, there are thug ballads too, including “Ebony Eyes” and “Ain’t The Same,” both of which are astonishingly honest and frank for a “thug.”

But two of the best, and most intriguing, tracks on Paradise are TQ’s renditions — or perhaps “appropriations” is the better word — of “Proud Mary,” which was written in 1969 by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and “A Little Bit of Love” by New Edition circa 1986. Of course TQ puts his thug spin on both tracks, and somehow, both songs just…work, which is really quite a feat considering neither CCR’s nor New Editions’ styles were anything like TQ’s.

It will be interesting to see how Paradise is received by an R&B marketplace now dominated by the soft-core likes of Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Mario, T-Pain, and, well…..Justin Timberlake. Yikes. Personally, I’m glad to get back to some good old-fashioned, grown-man R&B about man stuff, and away from the scrawny, eighteen-year -old, manufactured pop sensations who can’t be bothered to write their own material.

But will anyone else be?

TQ’s Official MySpace

– Jonathan

A Belated Look: Mary J. Blige – Growing Pains

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I’ve been keeping Mary J. Blige’s latest album, Growing Pains (Geffen 2007), at the bottom of my record pile for months — unopened, unheard. I must confess this was not a matter of simple oversight, nor a case of procrastination.

I just didn’t want to hear it.

See, it’s borderline sac religious for a hip hop and R&B fan not to like Mary J. But despite her being a near-constant presence in the New York music scene for the last fifteen years, I’ve just never been able to get into the so-called “Queen of Hip Hip Soul.” She doesn’t have Whitney’s pipes — I’m referring to vocal cords here, people, not crack paraphernalia — Mariah’s range, Jill Scott’s soul-food soul, or India Arie’s earthiness. And she damn sure doesn’t have Janet’s dance moves. In fact, Mary J. Blige is one of the most awkward, out of sync dancers I’ve ever seen. She makes Dame Dash look like Savion Glover.

Now, I’m not saying she doesn’t have talent (she does), or charisma (definitely), or marketability (8x platinum, anyone?), but it has been her human vulnerability and open honesty (concerning her bouts with drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships, not to mention being molested at age five) that has driven her record sales for the last ten years. Her music is real and it is genuine. And this is a good thing — I like that in an artist. But I’ve always thought Mary was…well, in a word: overrated. Historically almost all of her best songs have been collabos/duets: “Real Love” (Remix) with Biggie, “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” with Method Man, “Love Is All We Need” with Nas, “Back 2 Life 2001” with Jadakiss, “Family Affair” (Remix) with Jadakiss and Fabolous, and “911” with Wyclef Jean. Not to mention everything with Jay-Z. The list goes on.

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Who the F**K is M. Pokora?

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At this point in time, that’s still a good question for most of us. Unless of course you happen to live in France. In which case you already know exactly who this guy is. And you’ve probably seen his nipples. Many times.

Huh?

Okay, let me start by saying it’s not an easy task to find a picture of M. Pokora (né Matthieu Totta, aka Matt Pokora, bka M. Pokora — something about lawsuits — don’t ask, it’s the French) with his shirt on. Kind of like Matthew McConaughey. The guy seems allergic to shirts. Or maybe it’s that shirts are allergic to him. Either way, he’s just that kind of, um, artiste, because what he really is…well, what he really was… is a French pop star. In fact, Pokora even got his pop start in 2003 on a dreadful Euro TV show aptly named, Popstars, which sounds like a gloriously hedonistic mash-up of American Idol and Diddy’s Making the Band: Part 47 on MTV.

In other words, just a level of awesomeness that us Americans cannot even fathom nor comprehend. (Oh well, our loss.)

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