There was once a period in music, specifically in hip hop and R&B, when the remix to a hot new song had the potential to exceed the original’s success due to its unique spin on the track. Remixes during this time were not as simple as the artist reaching out to someone to add an extra verse to the song. During the mid-late 90s and early 2000s, remixes typically involved more than one artist as well as a new producer — meaning a new beat, not just a new verse. Remixes also often received new videos and vocals from the original artist, but in 2022, all of that magic has seemingly disappeared. There’s a sense of artistry missing from the remixes of today and an air of laziness that has since taken its place. It poses the question: “What happened?”
The idea of a remix originated in the early 60s from Jamaican DJs who’d utilize reggae and chopped up dub records, mixing them with funky drums to keep people on the dance floor for hours. Fast forward 30 years, and hip hop remixes were more popular than ever due to geniuses like Diddy and Jermaine Dupri.
In 1991, Diddy was actively involved in the early career of superstar R&B group Jodeci. Their single “Come & Talk To Me” was doing well on R&B radio, but Diddy felt a revamped, more hip hop-influenced version could do even better — and he was right. He completely reconstructed the track by incorporating new vocals into the intro and adding a drum loop from “Impeach the President” by The Honey Dippers. Diddy’s goal was the same as the Jamaican DJs who invented the remix in the 60s — he wanted to get people on the dance floor. Once Diddy accomplished that goal, the remix became a club favorite and a cult classic.
It’s impossible to talk about the art of hip hop and R&B remixes without mentioning Jermaine Dupri and his unique way of introducing new vibes into songs. His So So Def remixes were the perfect example of everything a great remake used to be. One of So So Def’s most iconic remix moments is Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married.” In a 2013 interview with Complex, Dupri talked a bit about what went into the creation of the iconic record, “I was just starting to go deep into what remixes were. The challenging part was that I had just done the ‘In My Bed (Remix)’ for Dru Hill, and that wasn’t a So So Def group. It felt kind of crazy that here I am, I create a remix for a group that’s not So So Def, and it’s a male group. They’re in direct competition to Jagged Edge, and they get a number one record … so I had to go into the studio and really come up with something that is amazing. Being a DJ allowed me to understand that if I put a faster beat on a slower record, it’ll work. Only a DJ would know that. It just automatically went with the words.”
They may not have known it at the time, but their concept of “hip-hopifying” tracks would prove to be a very lucrative concept that spawned dozens of classic records as a result. For instance, when Brandy was first getting started in her career, she released her debut single “I Wanna Be Down,” and the song was doing incredibly well amongst the R&B crowd. The legendary Sylvia Rhone, who was head of Atlantic Records at the time, suggested the idea of an all-female hip hop remix with new vocals from Brandy as well. As a result, rappers MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Yo-Yo all hopped on the official remix of “I Wanna Be Down.”
When speaking to Vibe about the creation of the track, Brandy had this to say, “The hip-hop remix … meant the world to me. I’m new … I’m fresh out of the box and these superstars are a part of my first single! They are my mentors and I looked up to them. I was a huge Queen Latifah fan. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God … I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ I got the chance to vibe with all three of them. They embraced me as a little sister. I was one of the first R&B artists to welcome hip hop onto an R&B beat. It had never been done before quite like that. Sylvia Rhone came up with that idea, and I just thought it was brilliant. She should get all the praise in the world for that. She wasn’t scared; she just said, ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I knew it was a special record.”
While it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular moment in time when remixes lost their creativity and sense of artistry, there are a few solid reasons as to why the change may have happened.
During the late 2000s and early 2010s, hip hop seemed to be going through a bit of an identity crisis when it came to the elements of a proper remix. The lines seem to have blurred between a posse cut and a true remix. There was no longer new production or new vocals from the OG artist; instead, anywhere from three to five hot rappers were thrown on the track. Jermaine Dupri spoke about this phenomenon: “Today when people do remixes, they don’t do nothing to the beats, they just put ten rappers on a record. That’s supposed to be a remix. You got to change the whole track. You got to go into a world that remakes the song.”
For example, Rick Ross’ “Speedin” remix is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The remake features an astonishing number of artists — fifteen to be exact. DJ Khaled, Plies, Birdman, Busta Rhymes, DJ Drama, Webbie, Gorilla Zoe, Fat Joe, Torch, Gun Play, Flo-Rida, Lil Wayne and more are all featured on the updated track. While the song isn’t necessarily made worse by the excessive number of features, it does beg the question “Where does this stop?”
Unless they’re genuinely committed to the artistry, why would artists do more work when they can help their songs chart by simply adding verses from different artists? The truth is they can skip the grind that comes with seeking out a new producer to rearrange the track, record new vocals, and come up with new melodies.
Unfortunately, the lost art of remixes will continue to be lost until creatives and labels alike can work together to bring back more of the originality that used to be heavily prevalent in the industry. It’s not necessarily true that the music of the past is better than what’s being created now, but what is true is that with the rise of social media and emphasis on streaming numbers and sales, a lot of the authenticity that once gave music a sense of quality has vanished. It’s why a large majority of the remixes today feel cheap and lazy.
With all of this being said, this doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Music is constantly changing and evolving. Similar sentiments about the quality of music were expressed when radio was up-and-coming, and the same sentiments are felt about the rise of streaming today. The hope is that some of that authenticity will return in due time.