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Various Artists: P. Diddy & Bad Boy Records Present... We Invented The Remix

Album: P. Diddy & Bad Boy Records Present... We Invented The Remix
Label: Bad Boy

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Rock fans can go their entire lives without knowing or caring about which label their favorite acts record for, but in hip-hop, labels often take on a much more important role. Part social club, part gang, and part endlessly cross-marketed brand, a label with a strong identity can sell millions of albums on the strength of its image alone, as when Master P made a fortune by slapping his trademark tank insignia on a slew of listless sound-alikes. Best known for the crucial role he's played in the careers of DMX and Ja Rule, producer Irv Gotti understands the importance of image, and has spent the past few years trying to develop his vanity label, Murder Inc., into a hip-hop force. Gotti had enormous success both with Ja Rule and with pop-leaning R&B princess Ashanti, but fumbled with The Murderers, a supergroup of sorts whose 2000 debut met with scathingly negative reviews. The Murderers return individually on The Inc., Gotti's latest attempt to turn his label into the next Bad Boy or Cash Money. Gotti clearly perceives Murder Inc. as a stable of outlaws à la Death Row, but its hardcore aspirations seem sorely at odds with Ja Rule's teen-heartthrob appeal and Ashanti's squeaky-clean image. The Inc.'s sound reveals a similar identity crisis. One minute, Gotti and his co-producers are emulating the synthesizer acrobatics of Swizz Beatz; the next they're attempting the sort of low-riding funk perfected by Dr. Dre during his Death Row days. Gotti tries out of a number of different styles on Inc., but the only one that fits is the P. Diddy-style karaoke-rap of "Ain't It Funny," in which J. Lo borrows the beat of Craig Mack's "Flava In Ya Ear" to subtly dis a materialistic former lover. Murder Inc. may eventually emerge as a rap force, but The Inc. reveals its weaknesses rather than its strengths. When it comes to developing a label's image, Gotti has nothing on P. Diddy, who has made Bad Boy synonymous with a glossy pop sound and a materialistic lifestyle. Essentially That's What P. Diddy Calls Music!, We Invented The Remix remixes the best tracks from albums by P. Diddy, G. Dep, 112, and Notorious B.I.G. Ever the micro-manager, P. Diddy litters the disc with his distinctive vocal trademarks, and while he still makes marble-mouthed former sidekick Ma$e sound like Twista, he's thankfully learned to play to his strengths. The ridiculous gangsta fantasies and whiny self-pity of his first two solo albums are mostly gone, replaced by a far more appealing, if far from masterful, mixture of old-school braggadocio and lovelorn yearning. It may be P. Diddy's party, but Remix is stolen by its high-powered guests, particularly habitual track-stealer Ludacris (on a two-part remix of "Peaches And Cream") and the nostalgia-inducing trio of Ghostface Killah, Keith Murray, and Craig Mack, who overshadow a comparatively bland G. Dep on an irresistible remix of "Special Delivery." Not to be outdone, Busta Rhymes and M.O.P. burn up "Bad Boy For Life," which smartly retains Megahertz's earth-shaking electro-funk beat. Of course, it wouldn't be a proper Bad Boy album if it didn't raid P. Diddy's extensive new-wave record collection, so a remix of Faith Evans and G. Dep's "You Gets No Love" plunders the icy synths of The Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams," to surprisingly palatable results. Populist to the core, P. Diddy has always prided himself on giving people what they want, and We Invented The Remix does so better than his filler-plagued solo albums. Like P. Diddy, fellow dance-floor populist Jermaine Dupri is a businessman first, a producer second, and a rapper third. Dupri's Definition Of A Remix takes P. Diddy's nothing-but-the-hits approach one step further by offering dance-floor and radio-friendly remixes of the label's most recent hits on a filler-free seven-track EP. Built around a remix of "Welcome To Atlanta" that finds Dupri, P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg, and the St. Lunatics' Murphy Lee playing tour guide to their respective cities, Definition raises demographic pandering to an art form. For the ladies, there's Jagged Edge's pro-monogamy anthem "Let's Get Married," joined, inexplicably, to the bare-bones boom-bap of Run DMC's "It's Like That." Jagged Edge's "Promise" shamelessly (though effectively) jacks the beat from the ultimate hip-hop love song, LL Cool J's "I Need Love." And, of course, there's the aforementioned "Welcome To Atlanta (Coast To Coast Radio Remix)," which is designed to appeal the sizable portion of the U.S. that lives in the South, West, Midwest, or East. It may not be art, but it is entertainment. Like P. Diddy, Dupri knows how to throw a sonic party, and has the good sense to wind it down before he wears out his welcome.