PRODUCER MIXTAPE: The Best Of Salaam Remi (The Fugees, Nas, Amy Winehouse, Miguel, and more)
by Chayne Japal
November 29, 2012
In the mid-90s, Salaam Remi began building a favourable reputation as a dancehall producer. Shabba Ranks had just broken out and US labels were tapping the little island-that-could to find artists that could duplicate his success and shipping them in. Remi was able to bridge the gap between hip-hop and dancehall for American audiences with his percussion-heavy instrumentals that employed dancehall basslines and tempo built off of the funk and soul samples more familiar to hip-hop. After working with both Shabba and Patra, the respective king and queen of dancehall, Remi struck platinum with a new find, Ini Kamozee. The song “Here Comes The Hotstepper” ended up hitting #1 on the Hot 100. Remi has a knack for finding samples that complement each other then punching them up with his proficient musicianship. For “Hotstepper” he borrowed a 1960’s chorus (from “Land of 1000 Dances”) and set it atop of the rhythm from 1980’s disco track “Heatbeat” by Taana Gardner (an artist Salaam’s father, musician Van Gibbs, worked with) which proved undeniable for top 40 radio.
While Kamozee was unable to release another hit, Salaam Remi became the go-to producer during the dancehall fad and went on to work with Supercat, Lil’ Vicious (!!!), Mad Cobra, Born Jamericans, Ricky General and others until North America decided that dancehall was too awesome to handle. Luckily, the Fugees turned up and built on what Remi was doing with the dancehall artists. When he was commissioned to do a pair of remixes for the young, struggling group he was offered an opportunity to return to hip-hop where he initially started out as a session keyboard player and mixer. The new versions he did for “Vocab” and “Nappy Heads” plus the lead single of their second album “Fu-Gee-La” was the start of a magical era for the trio. While hip-hop is at his core, Remi hasn’t confined himself to any signatures within his music and his flexibility allows his performers to shine on his productions. This might why be why he was credited as Salaam “The Chameleon” Remi for his efforts on Ms. Dynamite’s debut album A Little Deeper, a fitting sobriquet for a producer that has proved again and again that he can bring the best out of an artist, no matter what the genre. The work he did on the UK artist’s 2002 album, including producing its most successful single “Dy-Na-Mitee”, helped propel the record to the coveted Mercury Prize, which was just a taste of the kind of success the American would end up having across the pond.
Mark Ronson gets the props for Amy Winehouse, but Salaam Remi was at the helm for 5 of Back To Black’s 11 tracks, including the best single from that album “Tears Dry On Their Own”. They first hooked up on her first album, 2003’s Frank, which included the stand-out “In My Bed” featuring a glimpse of Winehouse’s strong songwriting alongside a very interesting but not unprecedented choice from Remi. In 1995, he flipped his own Fugees track; the “Nappy Heads” remix into a remix of Patra’s “Pull Up To The Bumper”. For “In My Bed”, he went for his most recognizable and hardest production up to that point “Made You Look” a street hit for Nas, one of his favourite collaborators. He added some keys and some flute to one of his dirtiest beats and turned it into a pop song. He’s that bold and his work is that malleable.
For the better part of two decades, Salaam Remi has been bouncing around doing all sorts of cool shit. He’s helmed a 65-piece orchestra for Jazmine Sullivan’s debut, gone underground to do a gritty pop & hiss beat on Canibus’ debut, introduced Miguel and has helped reintroduce Alicia Keys. Without video cameos, a forced rap career, or an ID tag the introvert has made a name for himself one great song at a time.