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The Remix Report Card, First Quarter 2014

Grading the biggest remixes of the year so far from Young Thug, Wale, Ty Dolla $ign, and more.
17 April 2014, 4:20pm

In the 20 years since Biggie and LL hopped on “Flava In Ya Ear” and Puff clinked those bottles together, it’s become one of hip hop’s favorite traditions to take a hit record, and attempt to take it up a notch by throwing a few new verses by famous guests onto the beat. Virtually every major label rap single at a certain level gets an all-star remix now, sometimes even before the original becomes a serious hit in an attempt to help it get there. Still, in this wasteland of perfunctory verses e-mailed back and forth to turn every song into an overstuffed DJ Khaled-style posse cut, there are invariably moments of excitement—your favorite rapper that you never thought you’d hear on your favorite beat of the moment, stars dropping up-to-the-minute references to beefs and current events with the knowledge that they’ll be heard by a huge audience within a very short time.

In the last few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to try to keep track of every noteworthy posse cut remix of a rap (or R&B) hit, simply because nobody else was doing it. In the Remix Report Card, I decide who has the best verse (if there are multiple new verses) and give the remix a grade, based on both the overall quality of the track and whether it offers anything of value that the original song did not.

“Clappers (Remix)” by Wale featuring Fat Trel, Young Thug and Rick Ross

Rap remixes that not only throw out new verses but offer an actual new beat are increasingly rare, but Wale decided to reboot the EU-sampling “Clappers” with a big name producer, Hit-Boy, at the helm. It’s not at all an improvement, though. Most of the remix is dominated by his MMG labelmates Rick Ross and Fat Trel, but things get a little interesting at the end when the ascendant Young Thug shows up, likely more because of his shadowy contract with an Atlantic Records imprint than because Wale knows what’s popping. Thugger is at that odd precipice in his career where major artists aren’t putting him on singles yet, but the more porous environment of remixes of singles is opening up to him. In typically unpredictable fashion, Thug doesn’t seem too interested with impressing anybody here, though, confounding expectations and tossing out 12 bars of sleepy, repetitive “Thugger wants you to do it” chants and a tired Stevie Wonder pun, and then splitting.

Best Verse:

Fat Trel

Overall Grade:

C-

“Danny Glover (Remix)” by Young Thug featuring Nicki Minaj

I tend to avoid cataloguing remixes that appear to be the result of an artist tacking a new verse onto a song without the involvement of the original artist. This, however, is one of those odd cases where, however Nicki Minaj’s “Danny Glover” remix originated, it has ended up being worked to radio as an official single, no doubt helped along by both her starpower and by Thug’s budding affiliation with YMCMB. I like the bio/pico de gallo rhyme, but this remix makes a pretty superfluous addition to a song that felt more distinctive without a dime-a-dozen Nicki verse thrown on it.

Best Verse:

n/a

Overall Grade:

C

“Dark Horse (Remix)” by Katy Perry featuring Pitbull

“Dark Horse,” true to its name, was never meant to be one of the big hits of Katy Perry’s Prism. But when the track featuring Juicy J became an unlikely chart-topper (or as unlikely as another Katy Perry #1 can be), half the thrill was seeing a member of Three 6 Mafia on a pop radio hit. So it was a little unnerving when Dr. Luke announced soon after the single’s release that they were recording a remix featuring Pitbull—it seemed like a tacit acknowledgment that, hey, there are only four rappers that get played on pop radio, and Juicy J isn’t one of them, so let’s replace him with one of the usual suspects. But despite my fears, the Pit mix never replaced the original on the airwaves, which is a good thing, since he doesn’t quite match the energy of the song, and actually says the words “I took it from the back to the front, Rosa Parks.”

Best Verse:

n/a

Overall Grade:

F

“Drunk In Love (Remix)” by Beyonce featuring Kanye West and Jay-Z

Another of the increasingly rare remixes where the beat is revised, although in this case the production is touched up in oddly minor, detailed ways. After Kanye’s brief verse, the entire song plays out, including Jay-Z’s verse from the original, with Yeezy and Mike Dean’s small adjustments to the bass and drums all along the way, bringing the track’s running time to nearly seven minutes. But even with Jay’s regrettable Ike Turner tangent still there, his little brother manages to one-up him on the TMI tip with some of that X-rated “

you’re schmoopy

” flow he’s been so fond of kicking lately. When the producer of the original “Drunk In Love,” Detail, released his own bizarre, mostly instrumental remix the same week, I have to wonder if he was making some kind of passive-aggressive response to what the G.O.O.D. team did to his beat.

Best Verse:

n/a

Overall Grade:

D

“Money Baby (Remix)” by KCamp featuring French Montana and Ty Dolla $ign

In previous eras, the most frequent guest on all-star remixes was often someone like Busta Rhymes or Lil Wayne, who at their peak was both hugely famous and skilled enough to be consistently entertaining in 16-bar bursts. So it says something sad about the current state of affairs that the busiest rapper on the remix circuit in 2012 and 2013 was French Montana, who on his best day isn’t exactly a commercial or artistic giant. Still, he comes like a relative star when you put him next to KCamp, who matter-of-factly intones things like “I like having sex” and “I like smoking weed” on his big breakthrough single.

Best Verse:

Ty Dolla $ign

Overall Grade:

C

“My Nigga (Remix)” by YG featuring Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, Nicki MInaj and Rich Homie Quan

One of the unfortunate ironies of YG’s big breakout single is that his verse has never been the high point of the song, lazily mimicking the sing-song flow of Rich Homie Quan’s hook. So it’s refreshing to hear him commandeer the opening spot on the all-star remix with a stronger verse than he had on the original. I’ve generally thought of Lil Wayne’s recent "return to form" as being wildly exaggerated, but he has a pretty entertaining verse here, with “I be laughin’ to the bank like the fuckin’ money tickle” reminding me off the kind of offhanded gems peak Weezy used to drop all the time. Nicki is on some 50 Cent shit where her adlibs after the verse are more entertaining than the actual verse.

Overall Grade:

A-

Best Verse:

Lil Wayne

“OG Bobby Johnson (Remix)” by Que featuring Snoop Dogg, Pusha T and A$AP Ferg

This lineup epitomizes the grab bag nature of official remixes. Several A-list rappers have released “O.G. Bobby Johnson” freestyles, but by the time Que got around to soliciting new verses for the official remix, he ended up with three very different rappers who came to fame in three different decades, none of whom seem perfectly suited for the Future-aping track. Ferg sounds briefly inspired before he switches to a “Shabba” flow for no reason other than that it’s what he’s known for. But the pleasant surprise is Snoop, who every once in a while out of his thousands of guest verses suddenly decides not to phone it in and finds his way around a beat that he’d ordinarily sound of place on.

Best Verse:

Snoop Dogg

Overall Grade:

B-

“Paranoid (Remix)” by Ty Dolla $ign featuring Trey Songz, French Montana and DJ Mustard

DJ Mustard’s aspirations of being the new Lil Jon, not just with the beats but with the yelling, has yielded mixed results so far, and his adlibs throughout this remix don’t do much to its benefit. Ty lays new vocals, but he puts in the least possible effort, adding half-assed boy band vocal runs to some lines while rewording others without changing the meaning the slightest bit (for example, “none of my bitches can stay over” becomes “none of my bitches eat leftovers”). My mans Trey Songz, who’s been rewriting others’ songs on the R&B mixtape circuit for ages, easily shows up Ty with his creativity, in addition to generally being a better singer and not oozing absolute contempt for the women he sings about. It bears mentioning that French Montana also has a song called “Paranoid” that was recently given an all-star remix, but that one’s not as big a hit and frankly I’m getting confused just thinking about it, let us never speak of it again.

Best Verse:

Trey Songz

Overall Grade:

D

“Radioactive (Remix)” by Imagine Dragons featuring Kendrick Lamar

Many rap fans were justifiably annoyed when Kendrick’s award-less Grammy night culminated in a performance spot that he had to share with the band formerly known as Gonad Migraines. But their live remix of the grungestep hit, which is currently shattering all previous records for chart longevity on the Hot 100, actually made for good television, largely thanks to K. Dot’s stage presence. When they laid the same collaboration on tape in the studio for the official release of the remix, however, a lot of the excitement of the moment gets lost, and you’re mostly left with Kendrick doing that goofy quavery voice while yelling “DRY SNITCH! TATER TOTS!”

Best Verse:

n/a

Overall Grade:

C+

“Show Me (Remix)” by Kid Ink featuring Trey Songz, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, and Chris Brown

I may have been charitable towards Trey Songz for his appearance on the “Paranoid” remix, but generally speaking, I don’t think he’s a good match for Ratchet&B—both his verse on this and his solo current single “Na Na” are pretty terrible. Kid Ink already has a second single out that also features Chris Brown, so he’s basically going to ride that gravy train as long as he can like some kind of even more anonymous Tyga. 2 Chainz, a key player in DJ Mustard’s radio takeover, is always a delight to hear on his beats, but Juicy J is disappointing in his first appearance on a Mustard track. Throughout his resurgence as a solo star, his flow has proven surprisingly adaptable to a wide variety of current production trends, but he sounds oddly flat here.

Best Verse:

2 Chainz

Overall Grade:

C+

“They Don’t Know (Remix)” by Rico Love featuring Ludacris, Trey Songz, Tiara Thomas, and Emjay

Rico Love wrote hits for other artists for years and years before popping up with his first solo hit late last year. And while it still feels like it’s the song, not his presence, that makes “They Don’t Know” pop, the better known stars on the remix don’t manage to steal the spotlight too much. In fact, the best appearance is from Rico’s protégé Tiara Thomas, still fighting to keep her buzz going a year after appearing on Wale’s hit “Bad.”

Best Verse:

Tiara Thomas

Overall Grade:

C

“Trophies (Remix)” by Drake featuring Migos

One of the trends I’m not thrilled with these days is instant remixes, hitting within days if not hours of the original track. In the case of “Trophies,” though, Drake teased the original track for so long that it already felt old by the time the remix landed the same week. Thankfully, the remix gives the song a new dimension, removing Drake’s sadsack chorus completely and putting their trademark flow all over one of the few recent Drake songs that didn’t already feature a Migos flow. The trio’s appearance mostly cements the odd dynamic that exists between the group and Drake—they spend most of the song openly aspiring to things he’s accomplished (winning Grammys, fucking Rihanna), and conclude with a salty “they copy the swag, but no, they’re not better than us.”

Best Verse:

Quavo

Overall Grade:

B+

Al Shipley is a noted remix academic living in Baltimore. He's on Twitter - @alshipley

Want more rap things? Here's a piece on how Wale turned heel at WWE Raw, an interview with Ty Dolla $ign about fucking, and an essay on why YG's debut album is so damn good.

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