Nowadays, it seems like the only way to tell if a rap remix is "official" is if it shows up on a remix album.
Many MCs are no longer screaming "Gimme that beat, fool," and jacking musical backdrops to freestyle over. It's now en vogue to take somebody's whole song and do your own remix without asking for the artist's approval.
Pick up any mixtape and you'll hear strange affiliations like Big Noyd rapping on Tweet's "Call Me." Last summer saw Jadakiss hopping on Sunshine Anderson's "Heard It All Before," not only adding to the buzz for his solo album, but keeping Anderson's song alive after it had reached its peak.
Cam'ron has been one of the latest guys to set airwaves and mixtapes ablaze with unofficial, unauthorized remixes. He just injected himself on Amerie's "Why Don't We Fall in Love," and his verse on the end of Ja Rule's "Dial M for Murder" made the song an instant street gem.
"No disrespect to Ja, but they weren't playing that song on the radio 'til I did the remix," Cam'ron said. "Sometimes it's the right verse. Not saying Ja doesn't have three or four other songs on the radio. Not dissing at all, that man is doing his thing, but that was a street joint. N---as start playing it, like, boom. Before, it was just an album cut."
Cam, who hasn't been hurting for hits with his own original recordings, said that if he feels strongly about a song, he sees no harm in putting himself on it.
"I was in my car [listening to 'Dial M for Murder' and thought] the beat was too crazy," he recalled. " 'I feel I need a verse on there.' Instead of just freestyling, I'll make it seem like a remix kick a verse on there and keep Ja's verses on there so people will pay more attention to it.
"If you just freestyle, everybody is gonna go, 'Freestyle,' " Cam'ron explained. "When the artist just goes in and [lays it down, like] boom, boom, boom, it be hot, instead of [going through] all that negotiating and it [ends up] wack. Sometimes you just gotta feel it and go do it whatever happens, work that out later. It ain't like I did it and Ja's mad, like, 'What the f--- are you doing?' I said some descent sh-- there. When [Murder Inc.] heard it, they were all good with it anyway."
"I don't mind," Ja Rule said. "I've done it in the past. 'Pain' [was] an unofficial remix, and now it's on my album. You never know what can happen with an unofficial remix. I did it for Pac, just to have a tribute record for Pac. I'm not mad at the remix records, because it shows a n---a's got talent. Sometimes people get deals like that."
Aptly named lyricist Skillz, who's dropping an album this summer on Rawkus, can co-sign to Rule's testament. He and his crew, the Supafriendz, gained more exposure than they could have ever imagined years ago by rapping on probably the biggest unauthorized remix yet, Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?"
Originally one third of the trio, Danja Mowf, rapped over the Timbaland-produced beat for a mixtape. The mixtape DJ then added the verse to Aaliyah's song. Skillz and Lonnie B. later put rhymes on when Richmond, Virginia, radio station Power 92 agreed to play the record. Things took off from there.
"I gave it to [my friend] Timbaland, like, 'Yo, check this out,' " Skillz recalled. "It wasn't like, 'We're burning your sh--,' it was like, 'Yo, check out my people.' Next thing I knew, it was on the radio. You know how DJs are, they trade and swap. I think that's how it jumped off in different parts of the country.
"Being that I had the affiliation with Timbaland, it was more or less taken seriously," he continued. "They ran with it. Next thing I knew, we were getting invited to perform with Aaliyah. We got platinum plaques for that."
"I think it's another way for artists to show their versatility without their albums being out," said newcomer Joe Buddens, who refers to himself as "the King of Unauthorized Joints." Buddens has inserted himself into such tracks as Brandy's "What About Us," Case's "Missing You" and Usher's "U Got It Bad," U Remind Me" and "U Don't Have to Call."
"Any artist can get on a tape and spit a couple of bars and make it a freestyle, but sometimes you want to hear somebody do something different," Buddens said. "Somebody wants to hear what else you do. So when I hop on them, it's like, "OK, he's not just one of those dudes who can just rhyme.' "
While Buddens said no one has stepped to him with any grievances of his practice, DJ Enuff, who spins for New York's Hot 97, said the unsolicited remixes are not always welcomed.
"Sometimes it can take the record to the next level," Enuff said. "There are a lot of imitations being done right now that are real cheap, and you're like, 'Yo, dog, no way in a million years you would ever pair up with this person.' People are hip on it now.
"I may get away with playing [an unauthorized mix] for like two or three weeks now, then I get a letter from a label rep like, 'You've gotta cease that record, or a lawyer will call and make it a big stink,' " he continued. "That phone call comes in once in a while.
"This one joint I'm playing now with Cam'ron and Amerie, I had to put a cease on it early this week because Nas is scheduled to do an [official] remix to it," Enuff said. "It happens. From a record label's aspect, some of the unofficial remixes can hurt the excitement of an official remix when it does come. The other problem is, what if a made-up joint is hotter than the remix the label wanted to put out? But if it's done right and it makes sense and it's not hurting the project, why not?"