99% of remixes are useless and speak to the slapdash and disposable nature of most hip-hop songs. To wit, if your song needed a remix to improve it, maybe you shoulda made that shit better in the first place.
That said, there are a few remixes that have achieved the exceptional feat of matching or exceeding the original recording in terms of thematic appropriateness, musical composition, or just overall quality. Here are a few of them, rank them how you please.
Ice Cube - "It Was A Good Day"
The original version is spectacular. With it's languid guitar lines sampled from the Isleys "Footsteps in the Dark," it is the perfect song to sip a joint to and relax. It even spawned a historical scavenger hunt documented by our gracious hosts.
But the remix? Oh man, the remix is just pure joy recorded. This remix makes you want to go actively make a good day happen. The main sample comes from a Staple Singers' song, written by Curtis Mayfield, called "Let's Do it Again." And even that title suggests that good days shouldn't just be lucky coincidences, but things that we can actually create and reproduce. And, goddammit, that makes me feel good.
M.O.P. (ft. Busta Rhymes, Remy Ma, and Teflon) - "Ante Up"
M.O.P. is a marginal hip-hop group at best, unlikely to remembered when the history of hip-hop is discussed by the worst white kids ever in college classes twenty years from now. But if you ever want a party, nightclub, dorm room, board meeting, DAR convention, etc. to blow the fuck up and get nuts, just put "Ante Up" on the jambox. Shit will get so hood, so fast.
Busta Rhymes, in all his dichotomousness, is spectacular on this remix. His verse suffers in the censored version. If you can find the uncut version, it's worth it. In a perfect world, I'd just add the Busta Rhymes verse to the first verses from Billy Danze and Lil Fame in the original, but we can't always get what we want.
And here is the original recording, which remains hard as fucking concrete.
Big Pun (Featuring Joe) - "Still Not a Player"
This remix is so iconic that it's hard to recall that there ever was an original version. It remains the most lasting legacy of Big Pun's short and, as his weight became life-threatening, lamentable career.
I even prefer the edited version because of the work-safe line the chorus gave to pop culture. "I'm not a player, I just crush a lot," was great a great mantra for any young person who wanted enjoy promiscuity without being accused of being a manipulative and conniving player. And since it substituted "crush" for the original "fuck" you could use it around the grown-ups.
Notorious B.I.G. - "One More Chance"
Another one where we hardly remember an original pre-dated the far more recognizable remix. The album version was a more uptempo track, suggestive of the age-old back-door man blues trope. On the intro to the album track, Biggie gets irate voicemails from women who are upset that he hit it and quit it, either because they feel spurned and used, or because they still want his hog.
The remix, while remaining misogynistic and unflinching in it's themes of sexual superiority, is far more smoothed out on the R & B tip. It is about as close to baby-making music as Biggie ever tried to get. Every video of B.I.G. makes me wistful, the brother was just so damned gifted.
Nas (Featuring Jadakiss and Ludacris) - "Made You Look (They Shootin')"
Nas is open about how cavalier and careless he has been with writing lyrics over the past, say, nineteen years. In nearly two decades, he hasn't recorded as many memorable tracks as exist on one album—his debut, Illmatic. And at this point, I'm not even mad at him. Illmatic is so fucking perfect, I just pretend Nas died at 25 like John Keats, and the other stuff was recorded by some cyborg replicant who never quite convinced us that real Nas wasn't dead.
That said, "Made You Look," was hot fire when it came out, and can still make a room bounce. The Jadakiss and Ludacris verses on the remix add a variety to the original that make it even more energetic. And this live version below is the perfect mash-up of the guest rappers and the original lyric. The live performance is actually impressively on point for a drunk-ass hip-hop concert.
Run DMC & Aerosmith - "Walk This Way"
This song means so much more to hip-hop (and even more to Aerosmith's career) than just being a perfect remix of a pretty good rock song. Historical impact aside, it shows just how much fun re-imagining songs can be. It's better than the original. It's fun, even though Run-DMC have often talked about how tortured they felt by the legacy of the song. But most of all, it's a proper remix, enhancing and tweaking the original content and composition without abandoning any of the elements that made the song what it was in the first place.
Got a good one? Put it in the comments, or put 'em on the glass. Whichever one you feel like.