"March on Washington" was definitely one of the better albums of 2014. This sophomore release was everything you'd expect from yU the 78er, Oddisee and Uptown XO - entertaining, lyrically thought provoking and backed by a solid soundscape. In fact, musically it was quite something to behold; Oddisee put together a brilliantly worked, intense collection of instrumentals that fit the mood of the album almost perfectly, barely a mis-step amongst them. Perhaps hoping to capitalise on the positive press, Mello Music Group released this 'Redux' project just two months after the main event, pairing the (mostly) original acappella tracks with beats from a host of top-drawer producers including Diamond D, Large Professor, Nottz, Oh No and Apollo Brown.
Given the nature of this release, it seems fairly logical to go for a 'track vs. track' style for a review, comparing the original with the remix where applicable. Note: this is a digital-only release available directly from Mello Music's bandcamp site, as well as digital stores including Amazon.
Mello's 14KT is given first bat with "First Step", one of my favourite beats of the year so any remix was always going to have to be extra special to be an improvement for me. In contrast to the energy-charged, string-synth-and-scratched original the remix is altogether calmer, smoother. Jazzy piano keys are sprinkled amongst softer drums and the slower tempo fits well with the re-worked rhymes. Whilst (for me) not as good as the original, it marks a decent start to proceedings.
"These Bammas" is handled by Oh No (of Stones Throw Records fame) and feels more lively than Oddisee's original. It's perhaps less atmospheric (despite there being more background 'noise') and the bassline is more punchy than intense, but it matches the vocals very well. Picking a winner is a tough decision as both versions have their merits, so I'll take the easy option and declare a draw...!
In-house MMG producer L'Orange takes over duties for "The Backup" and for me initially evoked memories of Ice Cube's "Check Yo Self". The original beat wasn't one of my favourites; I find myself focussing on the high-pitched key and despite enjoying the bridge, I tend to skip it. The old-school feel to this remix struck a chord with me right away and in no time I found myself nodding along with the beat. It's safe to say I prefer the remixed version though it would mean little if it didn't blend with the rhymes; thankfully, that's not an issue so it's the clear winner here for me.
The legendary Large Professor contributes the backing for "Working Weekends", cooking up an old-school grimy East Coast sound that wouldn't feel out of place in the golden age. I was never totally comfortable with the flow of the original, the keys just felt a bit at odds with the rhymes early on - although by the time the chorus arrives things had settled somewhat. Extra P's version isn't as complicated (there's no bang/wheeze/pop for a start!) and feels better for it.
"Purveyors of Truth" has a strong beat; a fairly powerful, up-tempo track that matched the energy and and general message of the rhymes very well. Apollo Brown is the man to see if he can measure up and he begins well, using horns to provide the energy and fading off to a gentle piano. It's a decent job although some repetition does creep in here and there, mainly with the horn pattern which is quite short and is repeated 4 or 5 times before it breaks. I'd go with the original as it just feels 'right'.
"A Part of it All" isn't remixed so we move onto "Say What You Mean" which is handled by another from the MMG stable - Quelle Chris. In sharp contrast to the soulful Oddisee original, the rhymes have been run through various processing levels. Whilst this hasn't really ruined the clarity I'm not sure the effect works, especially with the beat changing levels as it does. The track finishes with a piano melody which might have been a better option for the whole remix in truth. Sadly, definitely not a patch on the original.
Black Milk keeps the Marvin Gaye sample on his re-working of "Ain't Over" but uses it a lot less; at the beginning of the track then sprinkling it here and there occasionally. His version is also almost 3 minutes shorter than the original - although granted, the final three and a half minutes of that are an instrumental. The two tracks use the same keys and as such there's a familiar feel to both, which is a tactic we've not seen yet on this project. The original is more uptempo whereas Black Milk uses a slower, boom-bap approach that really works - while both beats are good, I'd just about go with the remix here.
Another legend of the game lends his talents to "Erything". It's perhaps appropriate that Diamond D (and probably not an accident!) should feature on this project. We've already seen that this track was given away free as a teaser by Mello Music and it's clear to see why - it's an excellent remix. The beat just fits with the rhymes better - it's a slower, less frenetic pace and the twangy, almost Wild West loop is a great choice. In comparison to the brass on the original track, which can feel a touch loud and manic at times, it's far superior for me.
The original "You Had To Be There" was backed by an uptempo, feel-good Oddisee beat. The Doppelgangaz are known for their hard East Coast sound and that's evident from the moment you hit play on their remix as the drums thump from the speakers. They work in an electro flavour interspersed with occasional keys for a completely different soundscape - however, it's one that most definitely works with the track. Both versions have their merits and I'm still not sure which I prefer - they're quite different and as such fit different moods.
"Lost Cause" flips the same vocal sample as "First Step", although uses it very differently. There's a charged energy to it that matches the sharp lyricism; a crescendo building as each verse heads toward the hook. Nottz takes the sample-driven road with a well worked beat that isn't on that same level in terms of energy, but does very much pair up with the rhymes. It's a fine track in it's own right but for me the original shades it, with it's revolutionist energy that could have you literally marching on Washington.
The next track is called "March Off" on the first album, yet is renamed "March on Washington" for the DJ Skizz remix. If I was critical of Nottz previously for perhaps lacking the required energy for the mood of the song DJ Skizz injects it directly into the first few bars of his remix, using lines from a Malcolm X speech. For me it actually flows better from the previous track than the original, at least in terms of the mood. It's a much simpler beat using just piano, drums and some scratched samples but it's the combination of those elements that make this remix a success. I like the original for it's more laid back but atmospheric feel, but the like the remix for it's old school New York vibe - perhaps there's a place for both!
The final track (at least, on the original album) is "Bonus Flow", a somewhat chaotic combination that sees some decent rhymes struggle to overcome over a beat that seems to do it's best to be ... annoying. There's a persistent loud noise, akin to some kind of alarm, that after a while seems to take over - which is unfortunate as the lyrics are on-point. Anyway, the remix has the chance to correct things and enlists the skills of Paul White to conjure up a beat from his bag of hip-hop, electronic and lo-fi wizardry. It's a typically White production - deep bass, rolling electronica and oodles of atmosphere. He does at least partially address the overwhelming noise, though there are still remnants of it in the background - thankfully quietened for the most part! I can't really say I really enjoyed this remix, but it's better than the original. Also perhaps of note is the fact it uses censored lyrics for some reason.
To ice the cake, a bonus joint is included: Jonwayne's re-working of "I Mean Business" from 2009's "In The Ruff". The original was notable for it's use of the Gang Starr 'Mass Appeal' sample but there's no sign of it here. This remix has a split personality as from a minute twenty it gets markedly different, switching up from an up-tempo brass-backed banger to a slower, more simplified style somewhat remeniscent of beats on Jonwayne's Cassette series - before switching back for a few seconds at the end. It's an interesting move but one that works - whilst being very different, the two beats fall together well and neither affects the lyrical content. For me though, the first part is much the better and I'd have liked to hear the result of the full thing being in that style.
Overall then, the original "March on Washington" is a better album; it's been developed toward a common theme and as such, the whole piece fits together more coherently. That's not to dismiss this project though, not at all - as a body of work it stands up very well and much like the original, there's not a great deal that has you reaching for the skip button. There are several stand-out tracks, a couple of which are at least the equal of their original - if not superior - which is an impressive result. It was also interesting to be able to see how Oddisee's originals compare with the styles and interpretations of the different producers, especially the old school guys like Diamond D and Large Pro.