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.More »