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Production Breakdown: Fashawn and Talib Kweli’s “Life’s a B*tch (Freestyle)”

Posted by Richard on 04/03/10 | Filed under Features, Nas, Production Breakdown, Talib Kweli, Fashawn
Talk about a coincidence... Last week, I delved into the history of Miilkbone's debut single, “Keep It Real,” only to find that the 'net was filled with contradictory and flat-out wrong information regarding the track. One thing that was clear, however, was that the hook was meticulously pasted together from three separate lines from AZ's guest verse on “Life's a B*tch,” a classic (and my personal favorite) track off Nas' landmark debut full-length, Illmatic: “Most of us were beginners... and my mentality is... keepin' it real, packin' steel, gettin' high.

Point is, my kinda fruitless research last week turned up some info on Nas' record which I now have the perfect excuse to share with you – thanks of course, to Fashawn and Talib Kweli's freestyled tribute to the record, featured this past week in the Booth. Reader reviews of the freestyle (set for inclusion on Fashawn's forthcoming Ode to Illmatic mixtape with Green Lantern), were largely positive, but also polarized: some considered it an immensely successful homage, others thought it was downright blasphemous – even going so far as to state that nobody should be messing with such a legendary track.

Nostalgia aside, can it really be claimed wrong on principle to put one's own mark on a classic? Nah – I don't think such a hands-off approach would even be healthy for the genre,., and I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. If Nas and L.E.S. were concerned about leaving the past untarnished, would they have felt comfortable boiling The Gap Band's '80s hit "Yearning for Your Love."

down to a swirling, almost psychedelic four-bar loop and combining that with the percussion track from another jazz-funk gem, Grover Washington, Jr.'s “Black Frost,” to come up with this?

(The second sample is harder to discern, being that it's buried under the original backbeat, but the way it's layered in is pretty brilliant.)

Not to mention, of course, topping the whole thing off with a solo by Nas' father, jazz saxophonist Olu Dara. To answer my own question: no, no they would not have. Whether or not you think Fashawn and Talib did justice to”Life's a B*tch,” (I think they did fine myself), you can't really knock 'em for putting their own spin on the diverse patchwork of influences that was the original; they and others like them are just doing their part to ensure hip-hop remains a living organism, not a reliquary, you dig?

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