Ten Hip-Hop Covers Of Rap Songs

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Last week, the Detroit-based rapper and one-time J Dilla collaborator Elzhi released Elmatic. It's the second time a rapper has re-written and re-made Nas's hallowed Illmatic, with Fashawn attempting a similar feat last year. As a listening experience, Elmatic is less than convincing, leaving you continually pining for Nas's original lyrics (which isn't surprising, as they've been recited like holy hip-hop scriptures by rap fans since 1994). But beyond its artistic merits, Elmatic is more notable for being an addition to the tiny body of hip-hop songs covered by other rap artists.

Cover versions may abound in other genres, but hip-hop has a history of shying away from them. This may be due to the high importance of lyrical originality--as Masta Ace put it on the Juice Crew's "The Symphony," "There's a sign at the door: 'No Biting Allowed.' " Even homaging other artists through invoking short snippets of their lyrics is seen as grounds for a dis (Nas to Jay-Z: "How much of Biggie's rhymes is gonna come out your fat lips?"). So while there's an accepted tradition of freestyling over someone else's beat on a mixtape, and the sub-strain of what are technically answer records like Salt-N-Pepa (as Super Nature) responding to Doug E Fresh & Slick Rick's "The Show" with "The Show Stoppa," whole-hearted rap covers remain the genre's curio. Here then is a tribute to the brave souls who have dared reinvent the raps of others--with varying results.

Def Squad, "Rapper's Delight"

Culled from 1997's not-quite-revolutionary hip-hop covers album In Tha Beginning... There Was Rap (which also features the Wu tackling Run-DMC's "Sucker MCs," with Meth's slow-flow fairing better than RZA's mush-mouthed delivery), here Def Squad members Redman, Keith Murray and Erick Sermon go right back to the essence and run through the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" (which itself adds a footnote to the rap covers canon, having appropriated lyrics from Grandmaster Caz in the first place). If you were wondering, Redman hogs the hot buttered breakfast toast while Erick Sermon is the one who gets to boast about his "super sperm."

The Roots, "Men At Work"

Oh, the plight of The Legendary Roots Crew! Despite having over ten albums in the vault, the ?uestlove-headed group has now settled into a comfort zone of being best known for its ability to mimic the music of other rappers. As they run through Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Men At Work"--the song which reputedly first brought the group together after the core members discovered their mutual appreciatiion of it--they perform with a certain gusto, although the overall impression is still that their long-term future is as a hip-hop wedding band.

Cypress Hill, "Busted In The Hood"

A respectful skewing of the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere," Muggs trades up the original's stripped-to-the-bone beat for a dubby, lilting backdrop, while Sen Dog's brief appearance casts him as a crooked cop named Sergeant Slacker. As B-Real unravels the song's story, drugs--but, of course!--now largely take the place of the Beasties' brews.

Atmosphere, "Millie Fell Off The Fire Escape"

A smart twist on the idea of how to handle a hip-hop cover, Slug and Ant add a second act to De La Soul's harrowing "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa" and imagine the next moves of the troubled protagonist after she shoots her sexual abuser. Sticking to the same rhyme pattern Pos and Trugoy used on the original, Slug has Millie fleeing Macy's, being pursued by a cop, and ultimately losing her grip on a fire escape and falling to her death. This time, it's definitely over.

QB's Finest, "Da Bridge 2001"

Rappers from the Queensbridge housing projects might be proud of their roots, but they never hesitate to bastardize the area's hip-hop anthem, MC Shan's Marley Marl-crafted "The Bridge." The most extensive in a series of underwhelming covers crams (in diplomatic, alphabetical-MC-name order) Capone, Cormega, Millennium Thug, Mobb Deep, Nas, Nature, MC Shan and Tragedy Khadafi on to the track, all to aimless effect. Other taintings of the anthem include Mobb Deep's "The Bridge '94" and Marley Marl's team-up with Tragedy Khadafi and Iman Thug for "The Bridge 2000."

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