With such a rich and vibrant history that began in 1970’s New York, the Hip-Hop movement has since spread far and wide, evolving, morphing and changing to suit its surroundings. Although its constant transformation has established new and unique narratives, perspectives and subcultures, themes of solidarity and camaraderie have remained . Even more so, the art of sampling has allowed Hip-Hop producers and MCs to recreate and reshape the old, constantly bringing together different artists and stimulating more creativity as a result. In this vain, I have collated my top five Hip-Hop homages and re-interpretations, whose creativity is reflected through a respect for the art and its artist.
5. Lewis Allen – Playa (2010) // Kanye West’s All Falls Down
In December 2010, New Jersey’s Lewis Allen released a 7-track album entitled Ode To Ye, which features the Vitamin String Quartet performing orchestrated versions of some of Kanye’s best beats. Lewis’ fresh-coast style of rap (very reminiscient of Lupe Fiasco) really complements the quartet, and his lyrics often mirror the casual flow that make Yeezy’s raps so contagious. Playa stood out for me, partly because of the orchestral instrumental of Kanye’s All Falls Down classic, but also because of Lewis’ tale of heartbreak that I’m sure we can all relate to.
4. Mos Def and Talib Kweli – Children’s Story (1998) // Slick Rick’s Children’s Story
Off an album that deeply encapsulated a feeling of Black identity in the 1990s, Black Star came to redefine what Public Enemy had set out to do a decade before: addressing Afrocentric ideals in the context of the social, political and cultural consciousness of contemporary America. Children’s Story is a modern take on Slick Rick‘s 1989 hit of the same name. The lyrical content of the original marked a key point in Hip-Hop’s Golden Era, where story telling in rap was becoming more and more prominent. Mos Def’s version begins with the exact same lyrics, but as the song progresses he starts to add his own story into the mix.
3. Elzhi – Detroit State of Mind (2011) // Nas’ New York State of Mind
It’s a pretty big feat to cover what is arguably one of the best tracks in Hip-Hop history. Well Elzhi went a step further in 2011 and decided to cover one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums ever written – Nas’ 1994 timeless classic, Illmatic – with his album ELmatic. He doesn’t quite better the original, but often stays true to its rhyming pentameter, which is pretty impressive when you’re trying to express your own thoughts to the listener in an entertaining way. His lyrics are solid throughout the album and his tone and diction breathes fresh air into the instrumentals. Detroit State of Mind is a great example, bringing that Detroit vibe to a New York classic.
2. Mar – Single (2010) // Lil Wayne’s Single
Mar is a Dutch Soul/RnB singer we’ve been following for a while now. In 2010 he started a project called Mar Variations, which has him re-interpretting his favourite songs in a unique way. Mar’s version of this Lil Wayne track is almost word for word, he simply adds a ridiculously smooth melody to some quite brutally sexist lyrics. A fine combination.
1. Flying Lotus – Fall in Love (2009) // Slum Village/J Dilla’s Fall in Love
My number 1 had to be Flying Lotus’s instrumental rework of pretty much my favourite Hip-Hop track of all time. The song is actually a tribute to the late great J Dilla, who passed away in 2006 from rare blood disease TTP. The rework is overflowing with a melancholy that’s a lot more subtle in the original, which makes it that much more unique. FlyLo’s trademark side-chain compression and white-noise really make the track breathe, levitating this tribute to perfection. Utterly brilliant.