In case you hadn't yet put it all together, let me explain this "remix" series that I've started. Hip hop, more so than any other musical genre aside from maybe dance music such as EDM, thrives off of song remixes, and there are many reasons why a remix may come to exist. The artist in question may wish to give the same message over a different musical backdrop, or he may want to use the same instrumental, but switch up the vocals, maybe even adding some of his or her friends into the equation. He or she may wish to reach an altogether different audience than the original version might have focused on. Or, these days especially, some entirely unrelated artist may like what they hear and wish to add their own two cents onto an existing track. There are hundreds of justifications for remixing a song, but that doesn't mean that every remix is worthy of attention. That's what this series will focus on: whether a remix needed to be made to begin with, and whether or not you should waste your time.
I started off with that ungodly twelve-minute Game remix to both (a) ease you in to what I'm trying to do, as I hope this becomes yet another avenue for song discussion, and (b) as an example of a meh track that didn't need to be redone in the first place. But having the star add a bunch of his or her friends to the party isn't anything new: that shit has been going on for fucking decades at this point. True, not every collaboration is organic: a lot of them these days are merely business transactions set to a beat. But that doesn't automatically mean it has to suck, and with that, I present to you Craig Mack's "Flava In Ya Ear".
Mack's first solo single (after an early stint the MC EZ in MC EZ & Troup) for Bad Boy Records is a hypnotic affair: producer Easy Mo Bee only needed to use some programmed drums and two fucking musical notes to grab your attention. Mack's brand of shit-talking was on-message for 1994: proclamations of mic dominance that were entirely unfounded dominate the verses, as does Mack's unique flow, half-mumbling and half-shouting oft-unintelligible syllables and phrases that drag out just a few milliseconds longer than the average person would use when speaking them. Obviously, that flow didn't pan out for a lengthy career, but it really was some new "Flava In Ya Ear", as this shit was a pretty big hit, both on the radio (it's a relatively clean song, to be fair) and in the club scene, leading up to his debut album, Project: Funk Da World.
Seeing dollar signs in his eyes in a cartoonish fashion, label head Sean "Puffy" Combs quickly commissioned an official remix (this very remix, by the way, is why he considers himself the inventor of the remix, which would be fucking hysterical if he weren't being serious), pulling together a bizarrely ragtag team of rappers to contribute while allowing enough space at the very beginning to proclaim his love of the flick The Warriors. For obvious reasons, Craig Mack's much-more-popular labelmate The Notorious B.I.G. was there: for inexplicable reasons, he kicks off the remix. By no means is this a bad thing: Biggie's guest verse probably helped move even more units of his own debut, Ready To Die, as his bars, depicting how he gets his the "ski mask way" while getting "more butt than ashtrays" and demanding that weak rappers "take those rhymes back to the factory", encapsulate his attitude from his entire fucking debut album, and he easily steals the show from his host, who, again I don't understand why, comes through second.
The same Easy Mo Bee instrumental is played throughout the remix, and it's interesting to hear the different artists express their innermost shit-talking while working around a shared limitation. It's even better when everyone present sounds as good as they do on here. After B.I.G. and Mack, whose verse comes off as an extension of his own original track, albeit now coming from a guy who's seen some success come his way, Puffy tosses in some randos who, while all are well-known now, confused the shit out of me back in 1994, as I couldn't understand why LL fucking Cool J would be working alongside Puff Daddy. But there he is, licking his lips and building that bridge that now exists between 14 Shots To The Dome and the commercial success Mr. Smith (which most likely did well because of LL's starring role on NBC's In The House around the same time of that album's release). Half of the guy's fucking verse seems to be made up of catchphrases that later ended up as bars or even song titles on Mr. Smith ("Hollis To Hollywood", anyone?). But he proves how versatile Easy Mo Bee's instrumental actually is, as his verse, written for the dudes but enjoyed by the ladies who were forced by their boyfriends tio listen to this shit over and over, plays well over the backing.
Rampage the Last Boy Scout is really the odd man out on this remix: his career was on life support at the time, his first attempt at releasing a solo album ending up in a vault, and back in 1994, the best description for the motherfucker was "hey, that's Busta Rhymes' cousin, right?". I imagine that's how Rampage ended up on one of the hottest remixes ever made: Busta most likely refused to do it unless he could bring his chauffeur into the studio with him. Regardless of how true that explanation that I just pulled out of my ass happens to be, he doesn't let down his host, delivering a performance that made it seem believable that he was "going to live long in this rap game". The fact that he's quickly overshadowed by his flesh and blood (after Ladies Love Cool James delivers his bars, anyway) is just unfortunate for him, and hilarious for everyone else, as Busta Rhymes picked up his crown and sash as hip hop's cameo king on this very track, which led to many memorable guest spots and, eventually, his own somewhat-disappointing solo career, albeit one that has quite a few bangers in its catalog.
Puffy's usage of the "Flava In Ya Ear" beat to boost the career of The Notorious B.I.G. was a major dick move, but to his credit, Craig Mack never let on that he was upset: instead, he kept up with his many guests, extending his own shelf life for several months. And, in reality, that's one of two things a proper, decent remix is supposed to do: keep your name out there. The other thing is to entertain the listener, of course, and while we all may question Puff Daddy's methods, he's not an idiot, as these two presented tracks show.
GO WITH THE O.G. OR THE REMIX? They're both pretty good, actually, but that remix, though. Biggie alone is worth the price of admission.
Craig Mack - Project: Funk Da World (review)