EDITOR’s NOTE: We have decided not to review Dangermouse’s Grey Album due to cease and desist orders and 9th Wonders Black Album remix in order to protect the LP’s sanctity, per his wishes.
While the remix is certainly not a new medium, 9th Wonder’s renovation of Nas’ God’s Son (God’s Stepson) not only opened the floodgates; Soul Supreme followed that up with his rendition of Stillmatic and MF Doom took a hodge podge of his older instrumentals and wrapped them around Nas’ Nastradamus; it ushered in hip-hop’s latest trend.
The latest to undergo the remix treatment is Jay-Z, who unlike Nas, had to foresee the slew of remix projects that would inevitably crop up in the wake of making an accapella version of The Black Album available. The one anomaly here is that ever since Nas dropped his debut opus, Illmatic, he has been harshly criticized for following them up with under-produced LP’s. That cannot be said of Jay-Z, who minus a few hiccups over the course of his career has managed to align himself with a who’s who list of producers with The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Timbaland, and Kanye West (some of whom he gave their first real break).
Beating everyone but DJ Lt. Dan to the remix punch in 2003 was Kev Brown’s The Brown Album. And though Kev held true to the formula by hand-picking selected tracks to remake, the nostalgic feel of 9th Wonder and Soul Supreme’s endeavors are replaced by a studio polished sound that its predecessors choose to eschew. Being a former member of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s A Touch Of Jazz production squad, the organic, nuevo soul sound that the crew had become synonymous for is etched all over The Brown Album; the smooth snare claps and vocal “ooh’s and ahh’s” of “Threat” and the crisp hi-hats and slowly eloping guitar licks from “Moment Of Clarity” both create a quiet storm that accentuates two of Jay’s lyrical standouts. And while the down-tempo strains of “Lucifer” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” lack energy, the dramatic harpsichord sweeps and Marshall Law’s DJ Premier-esque cutting add a welcome element to “December 4th.”
Kno (Of Cunninlynguists)’s The White Albulum is the most expansive, as he covers The Black Album in its entirety and it’s possibly the best of the bunch. Though Kno’s drums are slim at times and he adds an all too familiar element to “December 4th” and “Moment Of Clarity” by freaking the same sped-up voice samples that Just Blaze and Kanye West already liberally employ, Kno has a great ear for melody and arranging as he transforms DJ Quik’s feeble “Justify My Thug” into a neck-nodding exercise, recasts “Allure” with shimmering urgent strings and adds breezy horns to “Change Clothes” and Kno even melds Pharrell’s voice with the same key as the sample. And while the dramatic feel of “What More Can I Say” is refurbished with a minimal string arrangement that fails to move, “99 Problems” captures the same old-school energy and enthusiasm the original exuded and the female vocal sample included on “Lucifer” is ever so fresh.
The Black Jays (Kardinal + Solitair) attempt at lending their resonance, The Black Jay’s Album, to Jigga’s already enticing lyrics quickly becomes a mismatch. Not only does the duo bring nothing new to the table, but they actually make Jay-Z sound like he is a mediocre emcee (which is quite an accomplishment). The plodding “December 4th” has zero soul, “Moment Of Clarity” comes off as utterly lifeless and “Threat” is stripped off any redeeming qualities. The only saving grace from the Black Jays is their reggae tinged adaptation of “Lucifer.”
It should go without saying that the producers here are very familiar with the fact that these remix endeavors draw allot of attention, so while each is successful in their own way at affixing their own unique stamp onto Jay-Z’s supposed farewell, there’s also little debating that the rash amount of remixes have now milked a once intriguing concept completely dry. Yet, as long as labels make accapella LP’s available, producers are going to twist them. The only question right now is who’s next on the menu (Ghostface Killah, Kanye West) to be remixed in the immediate future?
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