Okayplayer's Best Mash-Up Projects of 2018
The year’s most brilliant blends.
The mash-up’s resurgence in an uncomfortably long — and just fucking exhausting — 2018 is less miraculous than just plain logical. Anyone with any sized screen can dig up a free audio editing app and test the universal threshold for shitty mushed-up messes by laying “Bad Blood” over “Hi Bich” on a whim. Which means the quality and success of a mash-up measures on a bifurcated scale of taste and technical ability. And — if we’ve learned anything from Aha and Kendrick Lamar’s missed-Twitter-connection — how jarring the perfect juxtaposition of eras and styles can be.
But the year’s most compelling blends don’t just pile classic cuts atop each other. Rather, through expansive catalog excavations, careful BPM tinkering, and a deep reverence for the respective catalogs employed, these unexpected and uncanny unions subvert what you thought to be true of your favorite artists, their careers, and compositions. The type of exhilarating existential panic that’s become increasingly rare as accessibility saturates a deep pocket of internet music nerd fuckery.
So without further adieu, here’s a scan of the mash-ups that got it right. The superlative stitch-ups of seasoned selectors building out bizarrely believable realities, where Tupac and DOOM had the chance to duel; the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest became an interborough goliath; and J Dilla met his muse in Mary J. Blige.
As as a longtime Stones Throw cohort, J. Rocc was one of a handful of trusted ears to the late J Dilla at the time of his death in 2006. Today, he remains dedicated to the Donuts doctrine. In celebration of Dilla’s birthday earlier this year, Rocc shared his Share My Bed blend, threading Michael Jackson’s searing vocals into a batch of mostly unreleased beats from the prolific Detroit producer. “Black or White” floats over a dripping Detroit techno synth and a sweeping shuffle. “Another Part of Me” flips from stadium R&B riff to neck-snapping specimen. “Butterfly” — already indebted to the kung-fu swing of mid-to-late-90s hip-hop, a la Slum Village, Lootpack, and Wu-Tang — trots slickly over “Playas.” Ace marksmanship across the board.
Never forget that two of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time — Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) — didn’t just drop in the same blessed year, but on the same fucking day. As a 25th-anniversary toast to a watershed moment in music history, DJ Filthy Rich gets surgical with Shaolin’s finest, transplanting the rugged-and-raw eight-piece into Tribe’s vivid jazz dream. Enter The Marauders tremors the invisible wall between two of The Mecca’s most formidable crews and imagines them as a unified force. And we’re all better for it.
For Amerigo Gazaway, the art of the mash-up is more than just pitch and pace adjustments. The sample-splicing specialist has helmed some of the sub-genre’s most meticulous melds, reconstructing timeless discographies into intricate decade-spanning tapestries. On his latest, The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon, Gazaway carefully interlays a highlight reel of Lauryn Hill’s most moving performances — as both solo artist and The Fugees’ not-so-secret weapon — into a lush and soulful bed of Nina Simone chops. Forged of equal parts blues and boom bap, Gazaway erects an altar to a pair of unflinching legacies, closing the gap between their tenures on the throne.
In a tragic transference of villainy, Tupac Shakur was murdered a year shy of MF DOOM’s reemergence from self-imposed exile in Manhattan’s underground open-mic circuit. This makes it almost impossible to imagine a world where the two might have actually crossed paths. But that twisted fantasy is a touch more tangible thanks to Sprute Ardell‘s menacing two-volume Makavillain mash. Tethering Pac’s razor-sharp barbs to DOOM’s bruising suites, Ardell presents a pairing that’s edgy, elegant, and all too fitting. No chaser needed.
Perhaps the year’s most mystifying fusion, Mary J Dilla‘s the type of project that haunts you with the prospect of what could have been. Underscoring Dilla’s unheralded aptitude for crafting full-melt R&B and Mary J. Blige’s stirringly malleable melodies, the expertly-crafted 52-minute tape thwarts even the highest scrutiny of stans from both camps with deeply reverent, tightly-sewn twists. DJ Tiger’s selections not only treat both back-catalogs as grail, but mindfully merges them into an eternally altered, borderline preferred, timeline.
Early ’90s New York and early aughts Atlanta are an unlikely overlay, but it works far better in practice than in premise on 36 Trap Houses. The list’s second appearance from The Wu-Tang Clan arrives by way of DJ Critical Hype, who delivered an A3C-commissioned cross-up of RZA‘s gritty, off-kilter productions, and the deceptively daggering talents of 2 Chainz. Patching the concrete cinematics of Wu-Tang’s classic with the veteran ATLien’s signature drawl, Critical Hype invokes an eerily enticing link between cities and eras equally central to hip-hop’s past, present, and future.
For his second release of the year, J. Rocc found a little sweetness in Mobb Deep‘s steel-toed treatments. On Thug Ballads, Rocc mines the unending soil of Sade‘s sleek and spacious canon, flipping the Smooth Operator’s hallmark hits into icy, hustle-heavy suites for Havoc and Prodigy’s infamous flows to run loose. Though it stands just six tracks tall, Thug Ballads is the transatlantic hook-up you didn’t know you’d always needed. And the instrumentals are included just to keep the cypher moving.
If you’ve ever wondered what Yeezus might sound like had Kanye West never gone industrial, the third installment of DJ Breakemoff‘s Pablo Wuz Here series is about as close as you might get to that impossible scenario. On the lucid 12-track project, the Mississippi producer effectively eulogizes all of the fallen Kanyes we’ve grown to love (and hate soon after) with a heavy dose of Big K.R.I.T.’s hospitably soulful productions.
Blu is, and may always be, a rapper slightly out of his optimal era of impact. But on the early-2018 release, A Sense of Blu, producer David Begun lays the Los Angeles rapper into Chicago’s brilliant boom-bap lineage per Common’s seminal 1994 album, Resurrection. Against the sophisticated knock of the mid-90s classic, Blu’s rapid-fire wordplay is punctuated by big drum programs and velvety jazz loops from the legendary No I.D. A real-life pairing this writer would be thrilled to hear in 2019 or any year after.
Feature Illustration by Laura Alston