Self-promotion in hip-hop is at an all-time high and continues to produce some fairly interesting results. Dubbing himself the Marty McFly of Rap, Tzarizm invites you to ride shotgun in his DeLorean as he heads back in time to remix rap tunes from yesteryear. It’s probably been done before, but the reference makes for a fitting background with everything from interludes to guest spots to the CD cover being done _Back to the Future_ style. Born in Riverside, CA, raised in Memphis, TN and residing in Orlando, FL for the past five years, Tzarizm has already an album under his belt as a rap artist (“Dirty Work”), but uses “Beatz to the Future” to hone his production skills before dropping his sophomore effort “Ovatyme.”

Tzar and partner Nemo start off with a 2K5 update of “1-9-9-9,” replacing Sadat X to rap alongside Common over a vaguely anthemic beat abundantly stuffed with bass. While bass is quickly established as a key ingredient in Tzarizm’s music, it’s often unclear whether intentionally or whether the project simply hasn’t been properly mixed. So the object is not to fault Tzarizm for failing to match the potency of the originals, but to regret that potentially nice beats can’t fulfill their potential because “Beatz to the Future” often feels like a project still in progress (including some beat skips and uneven vocal levels). That’s the reason “4, 3, 2, 1 (TZ Mix)” can’t hold a candle to Erick Sermon’s original despite an interesting, carnivalesque loop. Why the reworking of “Lean Back” has no chance whatsoever of escaping the dominant shadow of Scott Storch’s original, not with the clear but faint sample leading on Tzarizm’s timid track. The same goes for almost every selection on this mixtape. When Lauryn Hill raps, “Me without a mic is like a beat without a snare,” you quickly realize that “How Many Mics (TZ Mix)” itself is in need of a more distinct drum programming. To Tzarizm’s credit, he isn’t one of the producers challenged by Hill with her “Plus you use that loop over and over” jab. The way he rhythmically arranges the mariachi burst of “G.O.D. Father Pt. 3 (TZ Mix)” is highly entertaining, and his production ranges from modestly structured to multi-layered.

On a whole, “Beatz to the Future” may be an unfinished business, but presents Tzarizm as a versatile beatmaker. He puts Digable Planets back in their smooth place with “9th Wonder (TZ Mix),” underlays one and a half minutes of “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” with an intensely booming beat, and he replaces Rashad Smith’s ingenious sampling of Galt MacDermot with a chopped vocal break on “Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check (TZ Mix).” Indeed Tzarizm is messing with perfection quite often, from Hi-Tek’s “1-9-9-9” to Erick Sermon’s “How High,” which counters Red & Meth’s back-and-forth babble with a sampled drum break, “Fly Robin Fly” vocals and rhythmically sequenced guitars in the “Weedstock Mix.” The major mishaps are thankfully limited. On “We Need a Resolution (StreeTZ Mix),” Tzarizm manipulates the Timbaland track to the point where it’s still recognizable but stripped of most of its sparse funkiness. The mixtape’s worst offense is an awfully choppy version of “The Natural,” which clearly misses the point Mark Sparks and Mic Geronimo tried to make ten years ago. At the other end of the spectrum there’s “It Ain’t Hard to Tell (TZ Mix)” with some incredibly swingin’ horns that infuse “Illmatic”‘s lead single with some welcome energy, but that’s admittedly coming from someone who always considered “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” to be “Illmatic”‘s weakest link.

So props to Tzarizm for having the balls to lay his hands on a series of presumably untouchable rap classics, and by that I don’t mean the hopelessly bad “What’s Luv” but “The Message,” which may again be underproduced but is kept in motion by a great tumbling piano chord. Guest Surreal does an okay job, quickfire-spitting, “The money hustle got ’em walkin’ with a zombie shuffle / it’s not beautiful, the corner got a ugly struggle / shoot hoops, push crack or kick raps / the block is quicksand where grown men get trapped / young troops after _Juice_ like Bishop / but don’t Know the Ledge when they fall and can’t get up,” but loses some cool points for the corny adlibs (“son,” “cipher,” “you know how it is in the hood”) he puts in the pioneers’ mouths. And can somebody please tell the kid that he’s not rapping with “Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five” but with Melle Mel and Duke Bootee?

Other notable guest verses come courtesy of Rugged, who joins Big L with “rap verses full of soul like black churches,” and Critical Madness, who won’t “tell hoes I’m a rapper or a producer / I’ll seduce her by sayin’ that I was sent from the future.” Ultimately, “Beatz to the Future” doesn’t risk losing its audience completely like Marty did with his guitar solo at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, but a few technical flaws notwithstanding, Tzarizm aligns past and present nicely on this creative mixtape.

Tzarizm :: Beatz to the Future
6.5Overall Score