putting together a sample-based album inherently means creating the bounds within which to play — choosing the artists, figuring out which tracks work best recontextualized, and then trying to bring it all together to make something new. you hope the thing you’re making reveals some nuance of the original works that’s different enough to be interesting, but also still works as a piece of art.
this one was different — there were actually hardly any artistic choices to be made beyond conceiving of the project. once the idea was set, it was essentially deterministic art. someday soon, the creation process of this album could be entirely automated and come out sounding nearly the same: you could pick an album, choose an artist you’d like to hear do an AI cover of it, and lisen immediately. it would be made in less time than it’d take to listen to the album, and given the pace of innovation in this space, those moments of garbled, robotic vocals that occasionally pop up today will be smoothed, and the AI version will be near indistinguishable from an actual cover.
I’m not placing a value judgment on if this should or shouldn’t happen, just that it will. technology unlocks new ways to create, and as consumers with taste we decide what we like and don’t. I put this album together out of curiosity and taking a proof of concept to its logical conclusion: what could it sound like if biggie covered illmatic?
it’s rough around the edges, and given it’s deterministic art and the limits of technology right now. there are parts that sound robotic and garbled. as frustating as that is to me, I decided it was better to put this out for free than to shelve the album.
I was a young kid when illmatic came out and only heard it years after its release. at that point, it was hard to retroactively appreciate its massive influence since it was already a foregone conclusion. hearing it, I had a similar experience as reading shakespeare for the first time, where I’d come across so many turns of phrases that I hadn’t even realized were refering to these source materials. both were so full of such a sheer volume of iconic expressions that all originally stemmed from a single author.
one of my favorite bits about illmatic is knowing that nas was a teenager when he recorded it. when he came into the studio with dj premier to record n.y. state of mind, and as the beat plays and he says “i don’t even know how to start this,” and premier has to wonder if this kid showed up to the studio completely unprepared. as the story goes, nas had 60 bars, did the whole thing in a single take, and then asked the guys in the studio if they thought it sounded cool.
I think about how they finished recording in february ’93 and it didn’t come out until april ’94, and what that must’ve been like: one of the greatest albums in hip hop history, and for over a year, only a few people on earth had heard it. I wonder if they knew had any idea at the time what they had at the time, and how impactful it could be.
I think about this album as a showcase of technology at this moment in time, and a proof of concept for what’s possible. I was curious what it could sound like, and once I finished it, I wanted to share out these results for free.