Hip-hop has a strong selection of legends, and fans were unsurprisingly excited when Rakim, Nas and KRS-One all got together for one track. Aided by producers DJ Premier and Rick Rubin, the old-school icons went back to back over a funky beat, and they were outstanding, to say the least.
Entitled ‘Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been)’, the 2007 song is a DJ Premier remix of the Rick Rubin-produced track, ‘Better Than I’ve Ever Been’, which features Kanye West, Nas and KRS-One without Rakim. However, the DJ Premier remix is far funkier and more aggressive. Furthermore, the remix features added samples from the song ‘Dance the Kung-Fu’ by Carl Douglas, while the original only samples one song, ‘Give Me the Night’ by George Benson.
It was released the same year as Kanye West’s Graduation, which helped legitimise West as a real hip-hop artist and rapper as he stood toe to toe with the legends. At the time, despite his first and second albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration, older hip-hop heads were still looking at Kanye as a producer who was getting carried away. However, the song was nominated for ‘Best Rap Collaboration’ at the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008 and solidified West’s place in the culture.
Talking to HipHopDX about how the remix came about, DJ Premier revealed, “KRS-One called me and said, ‘Yo, we need a Premier version of this song!’ I had no ties to it, but when KRS calls, what do you say, no? No. You’re like, ‘Alright, what do you need me to do?’ He said, ‘The original is done. We even performed it already on MTV. But we still need one to do a video too, and we really want to get it a little more — not even uptempo, just more of a different type of energy.’ So I said, ‘Alright.'”
Speaking on his process of making the funkier, more aggressive beat, Premier (real name Chris Martin) detailed, “I got Rakim’s [verse] separately on a CD of an acapella of his vocal, but the thing is, [the song is] 100 BPM, but his [verse] was between 97 and 98. If you lined it up with my beat or the original, it’s not gonna line up; he’s gonna be behind, lagging, and the beat’s gonna be ahead of him. Can’t have that. I know how to time stretch, but I was like, ‘I don’t really wanna alter Rakim’s stuff.'”
Continuing to detail that he time-stretched Rakim’s vocal, Martin divulged, “I had a Pioneer CDJ-1000 … you could do a thing where it’s a pitch control where the vocal tone doesn’t change. This was before Ableton and all of these new devices … When I got Rakim’s [verse], I sped it up and kept pushing it and pushing it … Boom. I had pushed it, and when I do his verse, it’s the last verse. Comes out flawless. You wouldn’t even know the difference.”
KRS-One loved Premier’s remix; therefore, all the artists on the track decided to shoot a music video for it. The video even featured footage of the legendary Bronx graffiti crew Tats Cru working on original street art for the song. The song is legendary and is undoubtedly an all-star track, if ever there was one.