The first quarter of 2016 was abuzz with rapidly rising new stars and surprise projects from major artists. But as always, there was the restless churn of hit songs in radio rotation, and the cottage industry of all-star remixes used to extend the shelf life of those songs. And we only deal with official remixes made with the cooperation of the original artist, which means you’ll be spared from thinking about the Nas version of “March Madness” again.
“BACK TO SLEEP (REMIX)” BY CHRIS BROWN FEATURING USHER AND ZAYN
Chris Brown launched his career with a transparent rewrite of “Yeah!” by Usher, and here we come full circle with Usher himself guesting on the remix of Breezy’s latest hit, a transparent rewrite of “Adorn” by Miguel. Ursher predictably charms and Chris predictably harasses an ex-girlfriend. But the real surprise is ZAYN, whose guest spot makes a better case for him possibly becoming a credible R&B singer, not just Nick Jonas-style Top 40 placebo, than the whole of Mind Of Mine.
Best Verse: Usher
Overall Grade: C
“BLACK SKINHEAD (REMIX)” BY KANYE WEST FEATURING MILEY CYRUS AND TRAVI$ SCOTT
Just as The Life Of Pablo was around the corner, the ghost of album cycles past reared its head, when a remix of the Yeezus single “Black Skinhead” finally surfaced. It was at least timely in the sense that it came out after Travi$ Scott had become a star, but of course the spotlight largely belongs to Miley Cyrus, whose Tears For Fears interpolation fits awkwardly over the new midtempo beat. Obviously, Kanye knew how to get the people going with the provocative combination of this particular song and this particular guest, but with Ye’s lyrics repeated from the original, there’s not really much thought put into saying anything about it.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D
“CALIFORNIA (REMIX)” BY COLONEL LOUD FEATURING TOO $HORT, SNOOP DOGG AND RICO BARRINO
The original “California” was an ode to the west coast made entirely by southerners, so it was inevitable that a remix featuring actual Californians would surface. And Colonel Loud went ahead and got two iconic Cali rappers to set the scene, with Snoop in particular sounding more inspired than usual.
Best Verse: Snoop Dogg
Overall Grade: B+
“DOWN IN THE DM” BY YO GOTTI FEATURING NICKI MINAJ
It was a little over five years ago that the remix to Yo Gotti’s “5 Star” became one of the first mainstream launching pads for Nicki Minaj’s ascent to stardom, her first video in BET rotation before “Bedrock” happened. So it’s fitting that now that Yo Gotti once again has the biggest hit of his career on his hands, Nicki has returned to steal the spotlight, this time with two sixteen bar verses. Gotti doesn’t entirely surrender his song to the queen of rap, though, with an opening verse that puts a funny twist on his bars from the original.
Best Verse: Nicki Minaj
Overall Grade: A-
“HERE (REMIX)” BY ALESSIA CARA FEATURING LOGIC
Alessia Cara’s debut single was an anthem for introverts, and while the Isaac Hayes-sampling beat lends itself easily to a rap remix, it didn’t seem obvious who would fit the song’s antisocial vibe. So Logic is a brilliant choice, in the sense that he’s the major label rapper who it’s easiest to imagine being no fun at parties. But his quick eight bar cameo really adds nothing to the song, and in fact leaves an awkward blank space where there was room left for a longer verse.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F
“MIGHT BE (REMIX)” BY DJ LUKE NASTY FEATURING 2 CHAINZ AND MAINO
Luke Nasty has one of the biggest hits on rap radio right now (even if he basically yoinked the song from Anderson .Paak), and he’s not from New York. So why the hell is Maino on the official remix? Seriously, is this an extortion scheme or something? I need answers, especially since Maino is still as boring as he was last time I heard him a million years ago. 2 Chainz, on the other hand, actually adapts to the beat instead of sticking with his typical animated style, shifting to a more conversational flow to great effect.
Best Verse: 2 Chainz
Overall Grade: B-
“MILLY ROCK (REMIX)” BY 2 MILLY FEATURING A$AP FERG AND RICK ROSS
2 Milly’s signature dance seems to be bigger than the breakout single he made about it, so he needed a little starpower for the remix. Unfortunately Rick Ross has never been one for staying on topic, and manages to talk about dabbing for most of his verse instead of Milly rocking. A$AP Ferg’s high energy flow finds a perfect home on these beat, though, and he gets off some amusing quotables like “Damn Ferg done made it, I heard he workin’ with Madonna/ Guess I won’t feel the fame ‘til I’m humpin’ on Rihanna.”
Best Verse: A$AP Ferg
Overall Grade: B-
“PILLOWTALK (REMIX)” BY ZAYN FEATURING LIL WAYNE
One wonders if ZAYN decided to invite Lil Wayne onto the remix to his lead single before or after everybody pointed out that the Mind Of Mine cover is a rip off of Tha Carter III. Either way, Wayne hasn’t livened up a remix in a long time thanks to the annoying high-pitched flow he seems so attached to these days, and ZAYN actually kinda washes him with a few bars of rapping.
Best Verse: ZAYN
Overall Grade: C-
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