I swear I wanted to keep this list at 10 songs. Then I looked over my list and realized that removing even one of these fifteen tracks would be like killing one of my babies. I just can’t do it.
When compiling my list, I asked a few simple questions. Is the remix better than the original? And does it make me want to jump up and down like an idiot? If the answer to both is “yes,” there’s a good chance it made it onto my list. Again, it was really hard to narrow these down to even fifteen. I’m still second-guessing some of my choices. So much, as a matter of fact, that I made it 20. Sorry.
20. Fugees “Nappy Heads” (remixer: Salaam Remi)
Salaam Remi has worked his magic on everyone from Nas to Amy Winehouse, but he got his first major look with The Fugees’ first hit. This was pre-The Score, back in the days when everyone was like “who the hell is that girl emcee, and why the hell is she in a group with these two cornballs?” Have you ever listened to The Fugees’ first album? Shit is WACK. This bouncy remix (probably best known as “Mona Lisa,” thanks to Wyclef’s vocalizing in the song’s chorus) was the first track to put the future Grammy winners on the map.
19. Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Daz & George Clinton “Let Me Ride” (remixer: Dr. Dre)
I don’t know how much this remix got heard…only reason I’m even aware of it is because I bought an import CD single of it back in ’93. The original version of this hit (the third single from the landmark Chronic LP) is dope as is, but this remix puts an extra spin on things. The “G” is provided by Snoop & Daz, who drop in to complete Dre’s verses (Dre is alone on the original,) while the “funk” is provided by the one and only George Clinton, without whom this song (and much of Dre’s Chronic-era output) would’ve even existed.
18. Big Daddy Kane “Raw” (remixer: Marley Marl)
The original version of “Raw” came out in ’87 on Prism Records. A year later, Kane wrote a new first verse, got some very light production embellishments to the original track from Marley Marl, and re-released the song on his debut album, Long Live The Kane. The backing tracks are virtually the same, but “Raw” gets placed on this list by simple virtue of Kane’s revelatory first verse. If you listen to Lil’ Wayne and think that he’s a good rapper, listen to Kane kill everyone on this track. Weezy can’t hold Kane’s sweaty jockstrap.
17. Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By” (remixer: Puff Daddy)
Buying a Method Man solo album is like buying your favorite candy bar, biting into it, and realizing it’s stale. You’re left disappointed and still hungry. The same could be said for the original version of “All I Need,” which appears on Meth’s 1994 solo debut, Tical. Enter: Sean “Puffy” Combs, “inventor” (notice the quotes) of remixes. Joined by Mary J. Blige, an interpolation of a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic and a well-placed Biggie sample, this underwhelming song turned into the original thug-love duet, shooting to the top of the R&B charts (the one and only time any Wu member has ever hit the apex of that list) and winning a Grammy. Nearly two decades later, it still ranks high on the Valentine’s Day playlist of any true hip-hop head.
16. Ice Cube feat. DAS-EFX “Check Yo’ Self” (remixer; DJ Pooh)
In the time between the release of The Predator (the album that the original version of “Check Yo’Self” appears on) in the fall of ’92 and the appearance of this remix in the summer of ’93, hip-hop had done a 180. Cube’s old NWA pal Dr. Dre (who’s sampled on this track) had found commercial and critical favor with his G-funk sound, and Cube hitched his wagon to that train. Of course, this track still had a little East Coast flavor, thanks to the sample (some would say wholesale jacking) of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” but it was much closer to a typical West Coast sound than anything O’Shea had recorded up to that point. The end result? a hip-hop classic and Cube’s only #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
15. Ice Cube “It Was A Good Day” (remixer: DJ Pooh)
More Cube, more DJ Pooh. “It Was A Good Day,” Cube’s signature song, was made even better when the sample source was switched from The Isley Brothers (whose “Footsteps In The Dark” is sampled in the original) to The Staple Singers’ jubilant “Let’s Do It Again.” At the time, it was a revelation that Ice Cube could even crack a smile, much less make a song that was this joyous. Little did we know that twenty years later, he would turn into Bill Cosby.
14. LL Cool J “Jingling Baby (Remixed But Still Jingling)” (remixer: Marley Marl)
It was early 1990. LL Cool J was teetering on the edge of relevance, then he hooked up with Marley Marl and saved his career. The “Jingling Baby” remix re-ingratiated him to the underground hip-hop audience and wiped away the “sellout” stain that threatened his crown just months before. Bass-heavy and featuring a simple yet memorable hook, this remix was meant to rock a party. While I actually think the original version of “Jingling Baby” is fine, the remix is the only version anyone remembers, and, for you trivia fans: “Jingling” is the only song to appear on two separate LL Cool J studio albums. The original showed up on Walking With A Panther, and the remix sits comfortably on Side 2 of Mama Said Knock You Out.
Only hip-hop record ever to use the word “nincompoop” in the lyrics?
13. Busta Rhymes feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Woo Hah! Got You All In Check” (remixer: Rashad Smith)
This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?
12. Black Moon “I Got’cha Opin” (remix: The Beatminerz)
Of course, Black Moon’s always been on that real hardcore shit. Real Brooklyn thugs have an air of quiet menace about them, though, and the “I Got’cha Opin” remix completely reflects that. Over a well-placed Barry White loop (which must have cost the whole album budget, because Barry White didn’t want anybody sampling shit,) Buckshot smooths out his delivery, projecting calm, confidence, and yeah…menace.
11. Lords of the Underground “Flow On” (Pete Rock remix)
The original (Marley Marl-produced) version of this song is on some Onyx-type screaming stuff. For the remix, Marley (who was on a major decline at this point) was replaced by Pete Rock (riding the hottest of hot streaks,) who replaced his signature horns with…a Prince sample? Yep, the Chocolate Boy Wonda loops up “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” for a bouncy remix that finds Mr. Funkee and Do-It-All delivering typically playful and sharp rhymes, while a female emcee who I (sadly) don’t know/remember the name of bats cleanup at the song’s end.
10. House of Pain “Jump Around” (remixer: Pete Rock)
For the second time on this list (the first was “Check Yo’ Self”,) DJ Muggs produces a perfectly good song and then a remix blows him away. Pete Rock certainly knows his way around a horn sample, and the energetic vibe of the original is amplified on this remix. I’m sure that two decades later, some folks still haven’t stopped jumpin’.
9. Junior M.A.F.I.A. “Get Money” (remixed by DJ Enuff & Lance “Un” Rivera)
This song is probably best known for providing impetus for 2Pac’s scathing “Hit ’em Up” dis, but the fact of the matter is that “Get Money” is the better song, and allows for B.I.G. to get in a few subliminal digs on the slick tip himself. Lil’ Kim’s verse isn’t bad, and Lil’ Cease does his thing, but B.I.G. just pisses all over this track with his signature combination of tough talk and wit. Not too many other rappers could make you laugh to lyrics this violent. Plus, he quotes the ultimate bad-bwoy anthem, Shabba Ranks’ “Don’t Test Me,” in the chorus.
8. Eric B. & Rakim “Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness)” (remixers: Coldcut)
I swear it wasn’t until I was writing the blurb for “Get Money” that I realized Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” remix rides on the exact same sample. Dennis Edwards’ “Don’t Look Any Further” was a beast. At any rate, British production outfit Coldcut did their thing all over this track, adding in random sound effects, singing from the late Ofra Haza (the first instance of hip-hop’s love affair with Eastern music,) and, of course, the raw rhymes of the best emcee to ever spit on a track.
7. Black Sheep “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” (remixer: Black Sheep)
Here’s an example of a song that most people don’t even know is a remix. The original version of “The Choice Is Yours” sits somewhere in the middle of Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing album. It’s OK, but once the remix hit the streets, it was all over. You have not lived until you’ve been on a dance floor when Dres starts the “engine engine number 9” rhyme in the song’s third verse. It made people go crazy at my high school dances and it still gets the club amped up twenty years later.
6. A Tribe Called Quest “Bonita Applebum (Hootie Mix)” (remixer: A Tribe Called Quest)
The Isley Brothers “Between The Sheets” sample has been utilized by everyone from The Notorious B.I.G. to Whitney Houston to Gwen Stefani, but the first (and best) usage of that slow jam in sampled form came from A Tribe Called Quest and the radio mix for their classic 1990 single. Somewhat more commercial than the spacey album version, it goes (slightly) pop but doesn’t lose an ounce of flavor. A third version of this song (using Carly Simon’s “Why?” as the musical bed) is also a winner.
5. The Notorious B.I.G. “One More Chance/Stay With Me” (remixers: Rashad Smith and Sean “Puffy” Combs)
Want proof that Biggie was a bad dude? Not only did the man proclaim to live the life of a lady killer despite the fact that he looked the way he did AND WE BELIEVED HIM, but he also took one of the softest of ’80s slow jams (this is not an insult) and turned it into a hip-hop banger. The man flipped a DeBarge sample, got Faith and Mary J. to sing on the hook and didn’t lose an ounce of street credibility. Nice job, B.I.G. Oh yeah, and the song’s dope, too.
4. De La Soul (feat. Jungle Brothers, Q-Tip, Queen Latifah & Monie Love) “Buddy (Native Tongues Decision)” (remixer: Prince Paul)
Riding high on the success of one of the best debut albums in hip-hop history, De La closed the book on 3 Feet High & Rising with one of the all-time great posse cuts. The entire Native Tongues family (circa 1990) gets represented here, and it’s nice to hear a sex jam on which both sexes get equal play. Playful and funny, it never fails to fill up a dance floor. Queen Latifah and Prince Paul get extra goofy at the song’s conclusion, and the result is an all-around classic.
Random question: how dope would a Latifah/Tip singing duet be?
3. Public Enemy “Shut ’em Down” (remixer: Pete Rock)
How about those horns again? Pete Rock breathed life into P.E.’s sound at the end of ’91 with this simply ridiculous remix. Sampling laws had tamed the sound of The Bomb Squad by this point, and Public Enemy was on the precipice of falling off. Rock’s remix extended the group’s shelf life by at least six months.
YouTube, y’all are killing me. Not only is there speaking over the track, but the song slows down less than a minute again. Damn Universal Music. Chuck, tell these folks to release the track (which, I don’t think, is even available for purchase digitally…so what’s wrong with someone listening to it on YouTube?)
2. A Tribe Called Quest “Scenario” (remixers: A Tribe Called Quest)
What still impressed after all this time is the energy level of every emcee on this track. Starting with the late Kid Hood, everyone rapping on this song brings their A+ game. That would be worthy even if the instrumental track wasn’t filthy as fuck. This is hip-hop. Period.
1. Craig Mack “Flava In Ya Ear” (remixer: Sean “Puffy” Combs)
Biggie-perfect. Busta-perfect. LL-unintelligible but almost perfect. When the weakest links on your song are an animated but gruff Rampage The Last Boy Scout and Craig Mack on his A+ game, then what you have, sirs and madams, is a winner. Period. Do I even need to say anything else?
COME ON! BIGGIE REFERENCES THE GOOCH!!!
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