It all began in the spring. First, producer 9th Wonder remixed Nas’s recent God’s Son album, titling it God’s Stepson. That inspired Soul Supreme to create Soulmatic, a revisiting of Nas’s 2001 Stillmatic; soon after, MF Doom remade Nas’s Nastradamus as Nastradoomus. Now it’s DJ Lt. Dan’s Hova’s Son, blending God’s Son lyrics with Jay-Z beats. No rap artist has ever received so much intense tinkering, but it’s fitting that Nas should be first. He’s become hip-hop’s prodigal son. And ever since his 1994 debut, Illmatic, inspired a generation, fanatics have championed his redemption through every success and slip. Let’s be honest—Illmatic was an incredible achievement. But remember Nas’s two 1999 albums, I Am and Nastradamus? Neither do the rest of us. Yet, no matter how far He falls, His disciples have passionately defended His genius, promising us that He will rise again. God’s Son indeed.
In a strange twist, these Nas-postles have become the Maker instead. Soul Supreme’s Soulmatic is the least compelling remix—it has all the intrigue of algebra homework. Soul Supreme drowns Nas’s verses in crashing waves of swollen strings and chipmunk vocals. His beat-craft is technically competent, but rote and mechanical—especially compared to God’s Stepson, which creatively customizes new tracks to fit Nas’s lyrics. 9th Wonder’s beats are pleasant if a little repetitive: a nuevo-school aesthetic of deftly stacked soul and jazz licks (imagine Nas remixed by a latter-day Pete Rock). Wonder’s greatest achievement is his bonus remix of Stillmatic‘s “Ether,” an apocalyptic revelation scored by heaven-born horns.
In contrast to the meticulousness of God’s Stepson and Soulmatic, Hova’s Son and Nastradoomus play for funsies. MF Doom raids his own bugged catalog of tracks while Lt. Dan pilfers Jay-Z’s—so whatever they lack in laboriousness, they make up in entertainment value. Doom is a backpacker favorite, but his eccentric musical tastes actually lean populist. He favors sounds others would consider junk (syrupy ’80s r&b, for example), so it’s only fitting that he’d choose to redeem one of Nas’s worst albums. Even Doom can’t save droning, thuggish rubbish like “Come Get Me.” But in “Life We Chose,” his melancholy piano and sax loops polish the luster of one of Nas’s more thoughtful songs. Doom throws crazy ideas at the wall—some stick, like the Persian vibe of “Some of Us Have Angels”; others miss, e.g., the dense tangle that swamps “Last Words.”
The beauty of Lt. Dan’s Hova’s Son is how its sublime surprises play fantasy peacekeeper between Nas and Jay-Z. The overwrought martyrdom of “The Cross” switches from plodding to passionate when fit over the dramatic fury of Jigga’s “U Don’t Know,” while the nursery rhyme charm of “I Can” syncs well with the playfulness of Jay-Z’s 1997 “Who You Wit.” The main misstep is the clashing bounce rhythms of “Heaven” set to “Big Pimpin’,” but who’d think “Revolutionary Warfare” would sound so good over “H to the Izzo”? The blends Lt. Dan concocts are at once familiar yet unexpected, and that tension fuels the CD’s appeal.
Keep in mind that all this redux fever is happening against a technological and cultural backdrop where everyone with a laptop and Pro Tools is churning out his own mash-up mix tapes. Now that this quartet of remixers have spurred the trend, their efforts only portend future projects as expansive as your imagination. Coming soon: Public Enemy’s Fear of a Crunk Planet—the Lil Jon Remixes!