Diddy Invented the Hip-Hop Remix But Now It's Dead

Like everything else in the music industry, the internet changed the remix forever.
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During the early ‘90s while A&Ring at Uptown Records, Diddy was the mastermind behind the early development of legendary R&B group Jodeci. Puff had the vision to expand their single “Come and Talk To Me” beyond the reigns of R&B and reach an audience engrossed in hip-hop. He took their vocals and reconstructed the soulful ballad around a sample of EPMD's “You’re A Customer,” also including the drum loop from The Honey Dippers’ “Impeach The President.” The dance floor wasn’t new to the future mogul; throwing parties was a big part of his executive beginnings, and he knew a familiar rhythm would cause the hip-hop kids to dance. Diddy discovered his blueprint to commercial prosperity by foreseeing mass appeal in nostalgia and novelty.

What Diddy did in ‘92 was unlike Coldcut's remix of Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” or Pete Rock’s retouch of Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down.” Producer remixes weren’t uncommon—the concept of the remix originated from Jamaican dance music in the ‘60s, found new meaning in the ‘70s with disco, and continued to find a place in modern music. Puffy's newfound ambition to adopt a form of remixing that utilized samples with a twist worked for Jodeci. The success inspired him to use Mary J. Blige’s highly favored debut album as a vessel to further explore how far he could push his reinvention. There was no full-length R&B remix project predating What’s the 411?, it was Puffy who brought it to life and the commercial triumph proved the power of pairing old and new; hip-hop and R&B. Diddy’s vision was on the crossover potential that remixing allowed: two chances to break records through two different mediums.

One of the biggest, more unforgettable moments of the mid-‘90s in hip-hop was Mariah Carey fighting her label for a hip-hop remix to her hit single, “Fantasy.” This was 1995, Mariah was a pop princess and hip-hop’s commercial appeal wasn’t yet solidified. The two worlds were separate, and the executives didn’t understand why she was so adamant about bringing this rare and raw element to her clean and pristine image. Not only did Mariah go hip-hop, she brought the otherworldly Ol' Dirty Bastard along as her Prince Charming. Imagine the look of confusion in the Columbia office the day ODB's vocals reached the suits.

Neither artist was signed to Bad Boy but Diddy was one of the producers on the track. He made sure his name was involved with the first huge remix joining the worlds of pop and hip-hop, which eventually opened up doors for contemporaries like Jermaine Dupri and Irv Gotti to follow in his footsteps with So So Def and Murder Inc.

The entire industry would actually follow, but everyone knew Puffy was the pioneer. He wouldn't let anyone forget about it, either. Countless classic, Diddy-engineered remixes throughout the ‘90s and 2000s became engraved in history while the originals aren’t as immortal; Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear," Biggie’s “One More Chance/Stay With Me,” Jagged Edge’s “Let's Get Married,” Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm,” to name only a few. Revitalizing singles with new production or features became the wave of repurposing music. There was an art to topping the previous version, but it wouldn’t last. Nothing in the music industry ever does.

A change occurred during the mid-2000s, though, when the remix ceased to be an art form that produced new instrumentation. In a 2010 interview with SoulCulture, Just Blaze provided insight into what inspired such a small but noticeable change. Simply, radio’s Nielsen BDS spin generator, which tracks how often a song is played on the radio, only attributed remix spins to the original record's total provided the beat is unchanged. By keeping the production untouched, both the single and the remix would account for the same amount of spins. Preferring the remix over the original no longer mattered, as Nielsen would judge them as a single entity. Then again, if the production is changed for the remix, or the beat is slowed down or sped up, the radio’s computer system would recognize the new version as a completely different record. A new beat suddenly meant lower spin totals, not ideal for measuring a song's success. Puff was a banger guy, he prided himself on having the hottest hit, but the remix format he helped to popularize was killed because it made tracing hits more difficult.

Dupri’s “Welcome To Atlanta” couldn’t have a Coast 2 Coast remix with each new location getting production to match it’s heralded city, Puff and Snoop would have to represent for the East and West over one of Jermaine’s Southern slappers. When the remix format changed, the focus was no longer on crafting production that could push a single into new spaces but finding the right feature to push the music further. Destiny's Child was a group of young, innocent darlings who wanted a “Soldier” so it fit the song’s theme to get thuggish ruggish rappers like T.I. and Lil Wayne for the remix. This predates the two being commercial darlings, and Wayne especially benefited from crossing over into space where he didn’t have much footing post-Hot Boys.

Unlike Lil Wayne, who used the remix as a way of rising up from the underground, André 3000 utilized the medium to keep from vanishing from the mainstream. Around the time of Idlewild, the last OutKast album, Three Stacks began to make guest appearances on scorching remixes of others' hot singles, laying down extravagant verses on DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out,” “Lloyd’s “You,” JAY-Z’s “30 Something” and more. He became a fine example of how the remix spectacle could be turned into a sensation due to an unlikely visitor; there was no way to predict what song he would arrive on and that only added to what made each appearance monumental. 

Around the time of André’s appearance on “Walk It Out,” the industry began to also see a rise in the mega posse cut remix. It became imperative for every ringtone seller to follow up their verse with a verse from every hot rapper in the game. The labels began to move with an Avenger mentality, seeing power and popularity in adding big names for even bigger numbers. Songs like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” Chris Brown’s “Deuces” and Ke$ha’s “Sleazy” all benefitted from, among others, André's participation, and due to the South’s rising dominance a majority of these massive remixes featured Southern rap stars like Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Rick Ross and Ace Hood, who seemed to pop up on almost every rap tune that broke Billboard’s Hot 100. The Game’s “One Blood” remix is still one of the most grandiose, star-studded remixes of the massive remix era. 25 artists contributed verses, stretching the song out to be 12 minutes long—a legendary feat that even brought Ja Rule back from hip-hop obscurity.  

The biggest winner of the massive remix era was DJ Khaled. His singles were already filled with legions of rappers, so it was a seamless transition to turn his phonebook into a massive remix assembly line. The “I’m So Hood” remix in 2007 started the trend he would continue to lean upon, each one getting bigger and calling upon more artists to add bars to the fray. He went big on big with the “All I Do Is Win” remix, followed by the enormous “Welcome To My Hood” remix. Just like Diddy did before him, Khaled found room to take over through the remix.

While Khaled may have been known for orchestrating some of the biggest remixes during the posse-cut era, the most memorable single-turned-remix remains “Touch It.” Busta Rhymes brought out DMX, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Rah Digga, Lloyd Banks and newcomer Papoose to boost his single to legendary status. Pap’s appearance alone took him from an underground emcee to a top prospect. During this time, radio was still prevalent, television still had networks where rap videos were playing, and it was common for remixes to receive massive spins and even visual representation. Big records received big remixes, it was the era of seeing rappers move in herds.

Like everything else in the industry, the internet marked the next big wave of change for the remix. Ringtones died, radio began to lose its dominant grip and singles began playing an entirely different role as a way of promotion. 

With the days of bringing in 17 disparate emcees for a remix slowly dying, the power of a remix shifted to a single co-sign. Now, all you needed was one verse from a huge star to take your name beyond the stars.

Drake is the poster child for this kind of contribution to a lesser-known artist's track, always keeping an eye out for how he can become a part of bubbling movements. From Future's “Tony Montana” to Migos' "Versace" to iLoveMakonnen's "Tuesday," the Drake remix became a coveted commodity, turning underground acts into the "next big thing." Look at how South London’s Dave recently saw a huge boost in awareness once Drake remixed his 2016 single, “Wanna Know.” In the age of streaming and social media, remixes have allowed for an easy, immediate introduction to a much wider fanbase; whether it's Fetty Wap or Wizkid, aligning with one sole artist in this age is worth more than a thousand features. 

Of course, there's also the remix as an internet event. Anytime Black Hippy decides to come together and destroy an instrumental, hearts skip beats. Kanye West on “Timmy Turner” was expected to be much bigger but his touch isn’t what it once was. Jay Z appearing on Kenrick’s “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and Remy and Fat Joe’s “All The Way Up” was worth 100 artists. There’s a novelty to certain remixes now, only a select few blow-up, but the awareness of collaboration is massive for followings.

In addition to impacting the remix game, the internet also shifted the focus away from Nielsen BDS spins and toward streaming numbers. DJ Luke Nasty can now chart by making a song over Anderson Paak’s “Might Be” and T-Nasty’s “Nasty Freestyle” was much bigger than Bandit Gang Marco’s “Nasty.” Can you imagine if this form of charting was possible during the mixtape Weezy era? “Sky’s The Limit” would have soared while Mike Jones’ “Mr. Jones” would have languished in ZShare obscurity. Instead of doing official remixes, rappers can now just grab beats, make their own rendition and pray (read: pay) the song is cleared.

This current era of the internet remix is where producers stand to reemerge. Skilled beatmakers now have multiple platforms to release their remixes, edits, and flips to an audience of fans who are always intrigued by new takes on their favorite singles. It’s taking the Diddy approach of pairing vocals with new production but without needing the rapper to participate. I’ve spent countless hours listening to Knxwledge's WrapTaypes, a collection of rap songs that he has tweaked and warped over his preferred production. Kaytranada got his big break by posting an immaculate remix of Janet Jackson’s “If” and now he is one of the biggest producers maneuvering through the House genre. I’ve played GreenSLLME’s version of “Bad and Boujee” more than the original, Sango made me realize how much we need Bryson Tiller and GoldLink to get their hands on Dilla beats, what Stwo did to 21’s “X” should completely erase the original from existence, and Ducko’s edit of Kanye’s “Heartless” and 21 Savage’s “No Heart” will make you rethink logic. Everything returns full circle, and producers have to take advantage of the climate and realize how vitality could be a remix away.

There’s very little comfortability in the music industry due to the constantly changing ecosystem. It shifts, moves, and evolves so fast that yesterday’s blueprint is far from a trustworthy design. Diddy changed the game with his variation of the remix, a contribution he’ll be hailed for even beyond the grave. But Diddy is now retired and no longer innovating. It’s up to the next artist, producer, and passionate A&R to usher in the new age; to once again reinvent the remix.   

By Yoh, aka What’s the Yoh11? aka @Yoh31

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