Saturday, July 22, 2006

Vinyl Reanimators

When Nas linked up with Kool G Rap for 1995's Fast Life, it should have stopped the world. There was the Golden Child in the midst of his smoothest stride doing a track with the man who, after Schooly D laid the foundation, had perfected the street epic and developed the mold of the East Coast gangsta rapper. However, the beat that carried them both wasn't nearly as hard as could be hoped for. Instead, it turned out more bubbly than bubbling and was further assaulted by an embarrassment of singing. For fans who had awaited a meeting of one of the greatest with one of the grittiest up-and-comers, the sound was all backwards. Enter the remix. Although Salaam Remi's Norfside mix eventually received the official label go-ahead, the remix done by the Vinyl Reanimators couldn't be so easily brushed aside. Replacing a light touch with a menacing grip, the Boston-based production crew added in scratching and the raw energy that the original had been missing. More than ten years later, while the OG production continues to sound outdated, the VR remix holds up still. Recently, I had the opportunity to kick a couple questions back and forth with DJ Shame, of the aforementioned Vinyl Reanimators, to ask about the Fast Life situation and more.


RTA: You hail from the Boston area originally. In the early days of Hip-Hop, how did the music trickle down from New York?

DJS: For me, it was at the local roller rink, and then I started searching the radio, as well as record stores. First rap record I heard was Rapper's Delight at the roller rink. I was immediately hooked! Then, when I heard Adventures on the Wheels of Steel by Grand Master Flash, I knew that I wanted to be a DJ.

RTA: You remember the first equipment you ever used?

DJS: Yeah. It was a pair of Technics slq200x, I believe, and a 2 channel Numark mixer. About 6 months later, I had to upgrade to SL1200 MK2's, and I still rock the same pair! The mixers have changed though, and couple more Numark's, Realistic, the good old Gemini 2200's, finally ending with the Rane mixer (for the last 6 yrs or so). The first sampler I had was a Numark 8 sec sampler, I got that in like '88. Then I got the MPC 60II in '90. I use a bunch of old analog synths as well.

RTA: Speaking of first times, your first time on wax was with the remix to Tim Dog's Bronx Nigga, how did that come about?

DJS: In 1990, I was spinning on college radio in Boston. Ruffhose Columbia was having a contest for the best radio remix of Tim Dog's Bronx Nigga, so I sent one in. I won first place, and the prize was a Numark dual CD player, as well as getting the remix pressed on vinyl. It was definitely a good feeling having your name on wax for the first time.

RTA: Beyond getting your name out that way, you also made some noise with Traveling Through Sample Land, a mixtape often credited as being one of, if not the first, tapes to unlock some of the sample secrets of Golden Age classics. What was the inspiration behind this tape?

DJS: I used to spin a segment on my radio show once in a while where I'd flip through a bunch of originals that had been sampled. I figured it would be nice to have a full 90 minute tape flipping through all originals, so one day I pulled out mad records to use and hit the record button.

RTA: You ever feel like you were breeching any DJ ethics by revealing these "secrets"?

DJS: Nah, I never felt like that because I didn't reveal any info, except maybe for friends that were also into the same thing.

RTA: Why wait almost a decade to release a sequel?

DJS: Well, in '98, I did half of a 90 min tape, and Sean C was supposed to do the other side, but obviously that never happened. Just after that I started going through a custody battle for my daughter which lasted for a number of years. I didn't really do much music during that time.

RTA: Since the first installment, digging has changed. With the internet, instead of making that ceremonial trip to the record store, samples can be found in just the time it takes to download. You think this has taken the luster away from what once used to be an almost rite of passage for many Hip-Hop heads?

DJS: I have mixed feelings on the whole internet thing. Before all that, you had to do your own research, digging through all the record spots you could find and maybe trading info with friends who did the same. There were always joints that you told nobody about because you used or were planning on using a sample from it. It was all about paying your dues. A lot of that element has been lost with the internet. It's funny to me that there are now cats that are considered "internet diggers." That's definitely not Hip-Hop, but I must admit that it's nice to find certain info once in a while by pressing a few keys.

RTA: What were the origins of the Vinyl Reanimators?

DJS: I first met Joe in '90 through EdO G & the Bulldogs. Joe produced all but one or two tracks of Ed's first LP. I met Sean the following year at my boy Jamieson Grillo's crib in NY. We were both staying there during the CMJ Convention.

RTA: How did the three of you work together?

DJS: Most of the time we each did beats by ourselves at our own spots. Once in a while, we'd work together on something, putting samples together, or maybe drums or something like that.

RTA: The first VR-produced record was Scientifik's Jungles of Da East, correct? Any different feeling when you had done the first time thing solo with the Tim Dog remix previously?

DJS: Yeah, that was the first. That was a track that Scientifik was feeling as soon as I played it for him. It was cool, but the first is always the best, right?

RTA: The Fast Life remix? First, the OG version is all glossed up. Then you added scratching and flipped the whole entire vibe. It sounds paranoid, more thoughtful. For your remixes, is that move so conscious? Like, "let's do the complete opposite"?

DJS: For me, at that time, when Nas had killed the streets with Illmatic, to be on a track with motherfucking G RAP and be rhyming over Happy by Surface just wasn't doing it! Don't get me wrong, I love the track Happy, but these were two of the most respected MC's on a street level, and it completely lacked the element of raw Hip-Hop. I had already done that track and the acapella fit it perfectly, so I added some cuts to fit the track as well.

RTA: What was the campaign like to get Epic to accept your remix?

DJS: We figured we'd blow the remix up on radio which would hopefully force the label to pick it up. We also went through a couple cats we knew that worked at the label as well . . . but nope.

RTA: On your myspace page, you mention an "idiot A&R" being the downfall of your record. Is this indicative of your usual experiences with A&Rs?

DJS: My personal experience at the time was that A&R people I had met didn't really know Hip-Hop or what they were doing. And I remember thinking, "what idiot put them in that position?!" I don't think we found out until we got the remix in the mail.

RTA: How much of a missed opportunity did it feel like?

DJS: It was unfortunate, I guess . . but oh well. I also had a chance of doing work with Nas prior to that while he was still on Ruffhouse, but he switched to straight Columbia.

RTA: What did you think of Remi's remix?

DJS: It was alright, but I don't think it compared to the remix I did. And it didn't make nearly as much noise either.

RTA: You've done official remixes, but then also, like with the Fast Life situation, had to resort to white labels. Can you talk about the importance of that avenue for your music?

DJS: It was just a way of putting out stuff without having to deal with some of the record company morons. We tried dealing with a bunch of A&R people but found that most didn't know what time it was.

RTA: Beyond remixes, such as with Scientifik, you've produced a joint from the ground up essentially. And then with L the Head Toucha, later on, you did two songs. How is the process of supplying the original beat for a rapper to go over different than it is to come in afterwards for the remix?

DJS: It depends. With Scientifik, he found a beat of mine that he liked and also sounded good over it. With L, I put together tracks that I knew would fit him perfectly. When doing a remix, I like to find something that will fit the artist and the track as well. So I guess I treat remixes and regular tracks almost the same way.

RTA: More Vinyl Renanimators regular tracks came in the form of EdO G's slept-on EP Dedicated, whose entire production was credited to VR.

DJS: To be honest, all I did on that project was the cuts on Acting. That was all produced by Joe, and I think Sean C did one track. That was right about the time that I started to step back from the music stuff. If it is slept on, I'd have to guess that would be due to a relatively low number of pressing, because I actually liked most of the tracks.

RTA: How beneficial is it in the crafting of an overall sound to have a single production core behind a rapper's tracks?

DJS: You have an LP like It Takes A Nation Of Millions by PE that was produced entirely by the Bomb Squad, and you have an LP like Illmatic by Nas that was produced by a bunch of different cats. Both LP's were incredible in my opinion. A good producer/artist relationship will result in quality. Like I said, Joe did almost all of the tracks on the EP, so it more or less reflected Joe's flavor at that time. Joe basically did ED's 1st LP (except for 1 or 2 tracks) and about half of the 2nd LP. I think they worked well together and came up with some great tracks.

RTA: Around this time, as you mentioned, you started having some family issues that took you away from New York and the music for a while. How did this effect your focus on music?

DJS: I wasn't focusing on music anymore. Things were just too stressful to be able to focus and be creative with the music. I only did a couple things for Raptivism Records during that time.

RTA: Now more recently you've worked with rock musicians. Does this reflect a change in your personal preference of musical genres?

DJS: Not at all. I've always been into all types of music. Working with bands was something I hadn't done, so I figured it would be cool to explore that avenue.

RTA: But has modern rap music lost any of its appeal to you? Has the remix "died"?

DJS: I don't really listen to modern rap music. Modern rap music is complete garbage except for a few artists here and there that still put out quality Hip-Hop. I don't think that the remix has died, but rap music, on a whole, . . . definitely has.

RTA: However, sticking to your DJ roots, you're still pushing music out there, on XM radio. What is the world of satellite radio like?

DJS: It's really dope to be heard throughout the entire U.S., as well as Canada, compared to when I did college radio, which had about a 10 mile radius. It's also cool on XM that there is no censorship at all, and we don't have to do station drops or any commercials. Most regular radio is worthless, as far as I'm concerned, because of the crap they play.

RTA: What's the name of your show?

DJS: The station is XM 65 "The Rhyme." My show is titled "Vinyl Reanimations."

RTA: Your mission statement?

DJS: I don't really have any particular agenda or mission. I just like being able to share all this music I have with so many listeners. A lot of the time I like to dig out stuff that never really got much airplay but was still top quality.

Rebel To America: DJ Shame collection
Includes: EdO G - Acting; Kool G Rap f/ Nas - Fast Life (Vinyl Reanimators remix); L the Head Toucha - It's Your Life; L the Head Toucha - Too Complex; Scientifik - Jungles Of Da East; Tim Dog - Bronx Nigga (DJ Shame remix).


Blogger Fletch said...

To be able to open the file in the links posted, you will need WINRAR.

If you have never heard the original Fast Life, see the video and listen at YOUTUBE.

Salaam Remi's remix, sometimes mistakenly credited to Buckwild, can be streamed here.

Thanks again to DJ Shame.

July 22, 2006 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea I was about to say wasn't it Buckwild because the version I have says (Unreleased Buckwild). I real like that much more than that crappy version i.e from the video one

July 22, 2006 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Subculture said...

Im so glad that I happened to stumble on this blog a few months back. I thought everyone had forgotten about DJ Shame and I was wondering what he was up to. Travel Through Sample Land was my shit "I let my tape rock 'til my tape popped" true story...Im sooo glad you posted that link to that site to that mixtape.

Also, I have to say with all the comparisons to Nas and Rakim (while I can see why people say that). I have always thought Nas was closer to Kool G in terms of rhyme structre, subject matter and flow pattern. Im not sure why more people dont see this or if they do its hardly said. I've always thought O.C was a closer fit to Rakim out of the generation of MCs. While its great to hear that Ra and Nas are gonna finally hook up for a track (not counting that Alicia Keys song....ugh) I'm personally feinding for another Kool G joint. Also, while the remix is better Im a fan of the OG Kool G and Nas track. I think that people forget that on top of being hardcore street MCs Nas and Kool G are both very vivid MCs when it comes to that braggadocio, mafia, luxury rap shit and that beat complimented well imo.
That was a dope interview and I look forward to seeing more interviews on this blog.

July 23, 2006 4:59 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

The greatest explanation I've ever read about Nas' old school influences was in the seminal Jon Shecter piece for The Source: ""Like the legendary Rakim, Nas is a true poet and a true MC. The lyrics themselves are technical masterpieces, full of layered rhythms and meanings, and his delivery is deft, changing cadence and flow like a musical instrument. He has the attention to detail of Slick Rick, the urban realness of Kool G Rap and the vocal presence of Big Daddy Kane." I think Nas is most like Rakim in the point that Schecter brings up, i.e. being "poetic." Then, during Illmatic days, he was a lot like G Rap in the setting (subject matter) of his stories. NY State of Mind is, to me, the best example of the synthesis of these two qualities: Rakim's poetics, "beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined"; G Rap's content and structure, "fo'-fives and gauges, Macs in fact / same niggas'll catch ya back to back, snatching yo' cracks in black." But then, as Schecter writes, "Don't get me wrong, Nas is a complete original."

Wasn't there an XXL article (??) from about a year or so ago where Nas said he was working on an new anthem with another Queens Legend? Maybe that was a new G Rap track? Or maybe the LL song was finally gonna happen?

July 23, 2006 5:38 PM  
Blogger MiThRaZoR said...

Am I the only that likes the original Fast Life track? It's pretty good. Except for the singing in the middle of the second and third verse.

July 23, 2006 6:07 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Both rappers came off, the original beat is at least tolerable (though it does date itself pretty drastically), but yeah, the singing is the only horrible part. However, the beats and hooks for both remixes improve upon the OG greatly IMO.

Wanna know what Raekwon thinks about it?

July 23, 2006 6:42 PM  
Blogger Renato Pagnani said...

Yeah, I personally think the original "Fast Life" is far superior to both remixes you talk about here too. There's also another remix I have somwehere around, and it's pretty good as well. I don't know, like one of the above commenters, I think the luxurious Scarface production really sold the track. I agree on the singing, though.

July 23, 2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger Robbie said...

Nice one. I've been meaning to do a post about the VR remix of "Fast Life", one of the best white label remakes ever.

The DJ Shame interview was dope as well.

July 24, 2006 5:11 PM  

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