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Mixing the Remix

Philip Burrowes

Album credits for the video to the “I Need a Girl” remix proclaim “P. Diddy & Bad Boy Presents ... We Invented the Remix.” Whether this is mere braggadocio or the title to some forthcoming album, it begs the question -- is this something to be proud of? Shouldn’t remixing be considered akin to putting new wine in old skins, wasting a different beat or artist on an exhausted lyrical theme?

Let’s examine the aforementioned song. Originally, Mario Winans and Loon collaborated with Puffy in another testament to his inability to get over Jennifer Lopez. While the song was a nice break from other tracks on “The Saga Continues,” with lyrics like “Strip clubs, sit buzzed spend twenty Gs” and “Diddy be chillin’ with the Prada mamis,” it seemed the rappers couldn’t commit to too much humility.

In the remix, Mario Winans gets replaced with Usher, the chorus skips the part about needing a girl who would “lie to the industry,” and we get a smoother beat. Puffy being Puffy, we still get stuck with his line about being “like brothers” with his ex, but he does drop the random pseudo-Spanish phrases and instead of “nothin’ that’s broke that we can’t fix,” we get “you’re the one that I will always miss.” Don’t worry, Sean; time heals all wounds.

Point being, this remix was almost an entirely different song, and even the verses that were mostly preserved had key words changed, altering the meaning significantly. Similar things happened in the song’s musical antagonist, “Ain’t it Funny,” where Jennifer Lopez went from thinking some unnamed person set her heart free to laughing at him while he plays the fool in the remix. It was a total shift in theme, it brought in a new artist (Ja Rule, even though the J/Ja thing is getting old), and had a different beat. The remix’s author, Ashanti, knows a thing or two about remixes herself, having done a “sequel” to her own Ja duet with “Always on Time Part 2” and going from “Foolish” to “Unfoolish,” all in one album.

Here’s where things get a little hairy. “Unfoolish” features pretty much the same beat as “Foolish,” the main difference being an antithetical lyrical theme and the inclusion of Biggie rhymes (mostly from a previous team-up with R. Kelly). Said beat was furthermore already sampled on the remix to Biggie’s hit “One More Chance.” Were Ashanti herself on the Bad Boy label, the mix couldn’t be more incestuous. Even songs where the new artists aren’t so closely related, like every So So Def remix ever, tread a fine line between a fresh spin on an old hit and a cheap attempt at leaking more money out of a depreciating commodity.

What makes the status of these types of remixes so ambiguous is their hybrid nature. Rap music can get away with just throwing a new artist onto an old background, because that’s how rap started, and, quite frankly, because sampling is so rampant. Listeners of rap have conditioned themselves to accept a new voice over the same beat. Singers, on the other hand, rarely utilize identical tunes, and haven’t gotten their bread and butter from doing covers since Frank Sinatra sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” This is why Fabolous (and yes, that’s how he spells it) is palatable on the “Boottee” (and yes, that’s how they spelled it) remix but out of place when he pops up in “Oh My”; the listener is either different or in a different mindset.

Our last type of remix banks on that, and that makes it the least respectable, maybe even downright scary. They are of the “dance remix” variety, where a song’s background is simply replaced with that of another genre. Should the listener like one version, the other ones are either considered horrible, or they detract from the enjoyment of the first. If you like “Only Time,” you probably don’t want to hear the dance version. Nor are you expected to; such variance is crafted to attract otherwise overlooked audiences. Unlike the rap or hybrid rap/singing remix, there will be no Puffy to point out that “this-is... the remix.”

Maybe you prefer things that way, but in a world of Nellys and Nelly Furtados, the line between the hip and the pop is growing ever smaller. While there may always be markets that never cross over (let’s all just pretend that Wyclef/Kenny Rogers song to a Pharoahe [sic] Monche beat never happened), we’re running out of niche genres to hide in. The Neptunes are remixing Destiny’s Child covers of Angelina as they go gospel, while Christina Milian does some J-pop with Sword for Def Jam Japan. If Puffy really invented the remix, he may have some serious royalties coming his way.