You must be new or something, man
As part of this year’s Idolator Critics’ Poll package, Jon Caramanica has a piece celebrating the grand return of the posse-cut remix. According to Jon, the remix’s resurgence offers rappers a chance to compete with each other, showing hunger and doing their best to upstage their peers. Here’s what Jon says: “Most of these songs were plenty good to start with, but especially when a song is already a hit, the 16 guest bars take on additional dimension and attitude. Namely: I will take your shit. Superstars–hello Wayne–deign to bless a lesser, really thieving the whole time. Mediocre MCs elevate their game, putting more energy and thought into a 16 than into their whole album.” For the most part, I agree with Jon. The Game’s million-rapper “One Blood” remix from 2006 actually felt like an event; it didn’t lose its adrenaline-rush immediacy once in its twelve-minute running time. T.I.’s “Top Back” remix was a great victory-lap after an amazing year and a perfect opportunity to display the best backing team in rap; Young Dro and B.G. both came close to overshadowing him. The first half of DJ Khaled’s “I’m So Hood” remix redeemed a boring song by front-loading it with hammering double-time verses from Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, and Big Boi. Every once in a while, a mediocre rapper will come out of nowhere to dominate a track: Diddy on the “We Fly High” remix, Lil Kim on the “Freaky Gurl” remix, Chamillionaire (who, yeah, has somehow become a mediocre rapper) on the “Party Like a Rockstar” remix. These remixes can also sometimes make for great showcases for young, unheard rappers, like when Ace Mack’s crisp quick-tongue verse came close to stealing the “Make It Rain” remix, and they’ve also made it possible for R. Kelly and T-Pain to cross over into pseudo-rapping, which has been pretty awesome. But in the past month or so the all-star remix has lurched into overkill, and I’ve never seen a worse example of laundry-list overkill than the latest offender: Rick Ross’s “Speedin'” remix.
Rick Ross has never quite figured out how to use the remix. The “Hustlin'” remix was a legitimate event, but it also turned out to be the first indicator of how weak Kingdom Come would eventually turn out to be. And why the hell did he show up at the end of the “I’m So Hood” remix when he was already on the original song? There were already too many rappers on that thing. Likewise, “Speedin'” was already an exemplar of dizzy excess long before the remix hit the internet, largely because of the video. The “Speedin'” video has the most implausible introduction of any rap video ever, which is really saying something. A cop pulls Rick Ross over for speeding. (DJ Khaled, riding shotgun, in his calmest voice: “You must be new or something, man. We the best, man.” Kills me every time.) Ross responds by jumping out of his car and then leaping off a bridge, whereupon he makes his escape in a speedboat full of video chicks and then goes on to race Lamborghinis and party with R. Kelly and stuff. But “Speedin'” is still a pretty good song, largely because of its epic wobbly-synth Runners beat and its triumphal Kelly chorus. It’s not, however, a good enough song to support its bloated and ridiculous remix, with its seven-minute running time and its six-minute running time and its mind-boggling twelve-rapper roster: Ross, Plies, Birdman, Busta Rhymes, Webbie, Gorilla Zoe, Fat Joe, someone named Torch, someone else named Gun Play, Flo-Rida, Brisco, Lil Wayne. Hoo boy. Let’s get into this.
First off: one mixtape DJ screaming catchphrases on a rap remix is too many, and this one has three: the ubiquitous Khaled, the slightly less ubiquitous Drama, and the not-at-all ubiquitous Bigga Rankin. Also, not only is there no great verse to be heard anywhere on here; there’s hardly a single one I can call good. Plies sounds like his mouth is full of marshmallows. Birdman is Birdman. Busta, who’s kind of been on fire lately, sounds credibly heated but doesn’t come near the rah-rah double-time he’s pulled off on a gang of recent tracks. Fat Joe says the exact same stuff he says on every remix. Torch and Gun Play resolutely fail to pull an Ace Mack. Webbie and Gorilla Zoe and Brisco and Ross himself just sort of take up space. The track’s high point actually belongs to Flo-Rida, who sounds totally elated that he somehow came up with a monster hit song. The track really makes you work to get to the penultimate Wayne voice, and then, when you get there, it’s a decent enough but totally unremarkable 16 without a single quotable weirdo punchline. So here we’ve got eleven rappers punching the clock with unremarkable boilerplate guest-spots and one pretty good Flo-Rida verse. Did Ross really think he’d come up with some fire here? What Def Jam higher-up gave this one the green light? And couldn’t he at least have sprung for Bun B or something? Is this a parting fuck-you from President Jay? The all-star remix is a great institution, but it can’t survive too many more tracks like this one. The next time a rapper feels like dialing up every single other MC in his cell-phone to recruit for one of these things, he needs to take a deep breath first.