Salaam Remi and Nas didn't start out as buddies, but some things are just meant to be.
By the time Nas was putting out his classic rap LP Illmatic, Salaam was separately making his mark, already having produced for seminal hip-hop star Kurtis Blow at the age of 14. Though they hailed from the same Queens, New York, neighborhood and ran in similar circles, Nas and Salaam didn't hook up until 2001, when Nas requested a beat from Remi for his Stillmatic LP.
Now, 10 years later, he and Nas are still at it, working on God's Son's upcoming 10th solo studio album.
"Life is different, and at this point, life is good and dudes is looking younger now than they did when they were 25," Remi told Mixtape Daily. "So he's just in that rare form."
It's surprising that they didn't hook up sooner, but after going through a small spat with one of Nas' mentors, Large Professor, Remi never got the chance to really get to know Nas earlier. But a 2001 chance meeting in L.A. led to one of hip-hop's most organic partnerships.
"I created the track for 'What Goes Around (Poison),' and I sent it to him," Remi recalled. "And when I sent it to him, at the end of the day, we're in the same neighborhood."
Remi's discography is long and diverse. In 1991, he worked alongside Marley Marl on Craig G's Now, That's More Like It album, and three years later, he produced Ini Kamoze's reggae hit "Here Comes the Hotstepper." Salaam, however, is most known for producing the Fugees' 1996 smash single "Fu-Gee-La" from their Grammy-winning The Score LP. Then, of course, there is his work with Amy Winehouse on her 2006 breakout, Back to Black.
Since hooking up, Salaam has been responsible for a number of Nas bangers: 2003's "Made You Look" was noted for its authentic New York feel, while the uplifting "I Can" sampled its drums from the Honeydrippers' "Impeach the President," one of the most recognizable samples in hip-hop. In 2004, Remi crafted "Thief's Theme" and Nas' collaboration with his dad, "Bridging the Gap"
More recently, the two have come up with the gritty "Nasty," the first single from the Queens rap legend's upcoming album. On the boom-bap-inspired track, Nas chooses to bypass any notions of going pop, instead setting his sets on hip-hop's underground. It's a welcomed departure from the hip-hop that occupies top 40 radio these days, but Salaam promised that the sound on Esco's next album will be diverse.
"Musically, I have an array of records," he said. "You got some 'Nasty'-type stuff, you have stuff that's in the middle, up, down. I have all types of stuff. Just at the end of the day, we have to see what feels right for that package of 10 to 12 songs, because it's way more songs."
The expectations for this new Nas album are high, and Remi assured fans that his friend will deliver.
"He sounds like he's on his A-game writing," he said. "All his features at this point, all his verses on the album, it sounds like you're getting smacked upside the head. As much as 'Nasty' has that type of beat, it's really him on the beat that's making it connect all the way."