Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Buggin' Out

Why do you choose to listen to R&B? -- Pharoahe Monch (Stress)

I know I'd be the man if I cold yanked the plug
on R&B, but I can't and that's bugged
-- Q-Tip (Buggin' Out)

Never mind the fact that both Q-Tip and Pharoahe Monch nearly sing as much as they do rap now, their point is still felt. An unnecessary and distracting nuisance, R&B is the Scrappy Doo of the game. And while the worlds of the singer and rapper have been star-crossed ever since the days of Melle Mel and Chaka Khan and Rakim and Jody Watley, with a crooned hook and a marketing scheme being built into every rapper's next song, the boom bap's been virtually cut off at the balls by a menace named melisma. Now I'm not saying you have to separate the two sides and keep them apart forever, but the inbreeding needn't be a fulltime commitment. The formula shouldn't read "featuring Ne-Yo." Remember, a falsetto isn't the fifth element. Moreover, rappers and record companies, please resist to urge to sign over a cliché sixteen to any R&B act that hits you up. And later, if their song really needs a remix that bad, at least come correct when the check is cashed.

While the R&B album feature can be ugly, the infamous R&B remix is much worse to me. For starters, 90% of these tracks that call themselves remixes, with the same beat and just an added verse, really aren't much more than blends. Secondly, while I'm sure non-remix collaborations are not without their commercial intentions, the motives behind these blends are ever more blatant and desperate. However, those first two points are really secondary when it comes time to measure the track's overall worth: Is it dope? And with that as the standard, many times the R&B remix can't muster a passing grade. For example, just look at some of the names from Nas' own outreach program: 3LW, Brandy, Jagged Edge, Jennifer Lopez. The only hood they've ever got play in came with a Hello Kitty design on the front. And were you really fiending for a Bobby Valentino collabo? And so on. But Nas has a couple good ones too--well, some notable ones--okay, a few that aren't bad. In the following five examples, the singing is more or less negligible, but the raps may at least conjure some interest.

Ashanti, Ja Rule, Nas: The Pledge (remix)
Yes, The Pledge remix was a bad look for Nas in a couple ways: 1) Ashanti singing "murder" in the background, with Ja Rule riding shotgun. 2) The graverobbing 2Pac thing after telling Jay-Z to let another "late great veteran live." 3) Partnering with Murder Inc., even if the partnership did fall through eventually, business-wise seemed like a step backwards for Nas (and if you want to throw in that Murder Inc. financer, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, allegedly ordered the murder of Nas' long-time friend, E Money Bags, there's that too). However, staying strictly on paper, Nas' verse, riding triumphant following his battle with Jay, produces an interesting, swagger-happy lyrical appearance, "ask another rapper how it feels to lose his whole gangsta."

Kelis f/ Nas: Popular Thug (remix)
Replacing Pusha T, Popular Thug's original popular thug, Nas gets three verses with his now-wife no less. While this might have simply come off as a predictable A&R move, the perfect trap for some trite Bonnie & Clyde content, the energy alone that the beat provides should knock off all cynics. Plus, Nas starts the song with a crafty double-internal-rhyme combination, something not many of these remixes can offer, "ladies love what I been through / blood on my Tim boots / snub noses, club closes / down when my men shoot."

Lyfe Jennings f/ Nas: Must Be Nice (remix)
Nas hit the remix circuit a couple times last year, the one notable R&B connection being on Lyfe Jennings' minor hit, Must Be Nice. Nas' "thug love letter" is outlined in two verses, the first beginning with a mixed metaphor concerning mixed drinks, "written in mimosas for ink / pen wobbles on paper - Hypnotiq, I'm chaser." Led by Jennings, whose tempered production adds a hint of honesty to the happenings, Must Be Nice is an ode to the break after the day's hustle and the woman who centers all of that day's extremes.

Mariah Carey f/ Joe, Nas: Make It Last (remix)
A chart topping go, Make It Last scores points for being a remix in more than merely name (although, conversely, it stars not one but two singers). As Nas addresses his girl, in that oh-so clever rapper way, it's another chance to brag about what he has, "you taste like banana cake / you shaped like the number '8'." While the lyrics are manageable, Nas' confident but casual delivery is the real highlight. Recall the video for the song, where a laidback Nas sat in a club's back booth, with drinks in front of him, and a likewise lounging friend (DJ Clue) to his side. His voice here reflects that level of comfort, and the song keys into this tone appropriately. But Mariah's always done these collaborations better than most.

Ms. Dynamite f/ Nas: Dy-Na-Mi-Tee (remix)
Here's the real gem of the bunch. Because their LP collaboration Afraid 2 Fly fell through and never found any official pressing, Nas and Ms. Dynamite made sure their work on the Dy-Na-Mi-Tee remix came together. The track captures the sound of summer, in the old school block party sense, with Britain's own b-girl leading the way. And by the time Nas' verbal twists hit the speakers, there's more than enough momentum to ride, "since I came in the game / I started putting faces with names." Perhaps this remix's greatest strength is that it's not about love or male-female relationships. It's just about being fresh, something R&B hasn't been in a while.

Ashanti, Ja Rule, Nas: The Pledge (remix)
Kelis f/ Nas: Popular Thug (remix)
Lyfe Jennings f/ Nas: Must Be Nice (remix)
Mariah Carey f/ Joe, Nas: Make It Last (remix)
Ms. Dynamite f/ Nas: Dy-Na-Mi-Tee (remix)


Anonymous Ruck-Spin said...

Dy-Na-Mit-Tee remix is the shit. Its surprising for a Swizz Beatz production, I can't think of any other of his beats that sound like this. I just revisited "Afraid 2 Fly" from A Little Deeper.. if they were trying to get Nas on that track I think it would've been a good fit. on a side note, does anyone else remember the Res "Ice King" remix? that could've been ill, but Nas' verse felt very.. phoned in.

July 26, 2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Nas actually did appear on Afraid 2 Fly, it just never was released (I think clearance time was an issue). He spit part of his Eye For An Eye Freestyle there too.

I'm gonna do an "R&B originals" (featured Nas verses from R&B albums) entry eventually, and I'll probably include it.

July 26, 2006 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Ruckspin said...

nice, I'll be looking out for that.

July 27, 2006 7:10 AM  

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