D.I.T.C., short for Diggin’ In The Crates, undeniably has created its own legacy in hip-hop history. Bearing in mind that all larger alliances are destined to fall apart, the name still holds a certain weight. It is one of the few reference points that are still valid (and in use) in the hip-hop universe, which can’t be said for most others, including former big brands like the Roc, YMCMB or Soulquarians.
Nevertheless what D.I.T.C. could have been is inevitably larger than what it actually is. Impeding factors include Fat Joe’s rise to fame and Big L’s untimely passing, the art of sampling facing adversity and competition, and a belated group album that exemplified the challenges for old warhorses in a fast-moving and ever-changing hip-hop world. Rather than describing a band of soldiers moving in union through thick and thin, the abbreviation these days is often used to sum up a certain sound and style in hip-hop production. That’s understandable given notable producers such as Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Showbiz and Buckwild are part of it, still D.I.T.C. in modern times is more of a symbol than an actual factor in contemporary hip-hop. As individual members struggled to have the same impact they had during the ’90s, it’s somewhat understandable that they keep coming back to their most productive period.
The self-explanatory “The Remix Project,” originally released in 2014 and now sold as a ‘Deluxe Edition’ with the full set of instrumentals, packs 14 remixes of tracks featuring D.I.T.C. members and select guests KRS-One and Big Pun. Rather than opening the vaults to anyone with a powerful musical vision, they resorted to people from their immediate orbit such as DJ Premier, O.Gee and Apollo Brown, kindred spirits like Alchemist and Marco Polo, and for more than a third of the time to the inner D.I.T.C. circle. The only remotely surprising names in the production credits are Bink! and 9th Wonder.
Collectively the remixers create a notably dark sound, which at least sonically is in the vein of their ’90s releases like “Return of the Funky Man,” “Goodfellas,” “Jealous One’s Envy” and “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous.” The Alchemist dangles the previously unreleased “We All” over a pit of leaping strings and snapping drums. Supposedly intended to be released on a 2010 Show album, “We All” is a well chosen opener as A.G. and O.C. rep D.I.T.C. more explicitly than on their “OAsis” collaboration project from the same period. As O.C. questions the crew’s motivations then (“In the beginning we was winning, then we got lax, lazy, spent money crazy”) and now (“We simply been debatin’ if it’s worth all the headache”) with self-awareness, the hook speaks of the bond that exists between any given combination of D.I.T.C. members.
Another appropriate pick is the “Da Enemy.” Bink!, a producer with a remarkably consistent career, ditches the steady alarm signals of the Premier original in favor of a wistful yet bouncy background that reflects both the bitter and the triumphant overtones of Big L’s and Fat Joe’s accounts of police profiling. Primo himself revisits the track that might as well serve as the official D.I.T.C. birth certificate, “Diggin’ In The Crates” (the first recording of which dates back to 1990) with chimes that harken back to the Gang Starr days.
The original members and Buckwild flex their remixing skills to the best of their abilities. Lord Finesse coats “Thick” with heavy jazz funk and disposes of the somewhat annoying female hook while discovering alternate takes of Big L and O.C. verses. Buckwild’s cinematic remix trumps the “Casualties of a Dice Game” original, while his revision of “Drop it Heavy” seems less urgent, even with added vocal cuts. Showbiz, who with Finesse and Diamond forms the original D.I.T.C. production triumvirate, still doesn’t feel the urge to go back to his dusty roots, but both his remixes for “Best Behavior” match the overall mood of this project as well as that of Ahmed’s sparse and dark original. Diamond D fulfills the promise of “Internationally Known” with a sample seemingly straight out of a spy thriller.
The rest all prove themselves worthy students of D.I.T.C. Marco Polo rescues “Way of Life” from the sonic and seasonal proximity to “B-Boy Document ’99” with a hard-hitting one-two punch of horns and drums. Apollo Brown dignifies the vintage verses from Fat Joe, Lord Finesse, Big L, and A.G. with one of his signature headnod symphonies. Original O.C. collaborator O.Gee tailors also a completely new outfit for “Foundation,” adding gravitas to the track that wasn’t there before. 9th Wonder finally takes the edge off the crimin’ “Time to Get That Money” and the cautionary “Casualties of a Dice Game” without disregarding the lyrical content.
Focusing on D.I.T.C. group recordings, “The Remix Project” is a striking reminder of the collective’s importance (so much talent and so much history) and overall an excellent curation of the Diggin’ In The Crates heritage. With a few clever adjustments and additions it could have easily surpassed their one industry album from 2000, which was coincidentally influenced by the guys who shortly after preposterously claimed to have invented the remix. “The Remix Project” is a celebration of the raw artistic idea of the remix, the state of which is more deplorable than ever. By the same token it offers a very traditionalist take on old hip-hop songs that seals itself shut from any possible breath of fresh air. But anybody “down with the crew called Diggin’ In The Crates” and those who still reminisce over Big L and Big Pun 16’s should give this another listen. Because D.I.T.C.’s “Remix Project” also cements the convention that you can’t really single out any performance, such is the crew’s consistency.