Words by Salaam Remi
On a hot July day in Summer 2012, LargeUp visited producer Salaam Remi at his Instrument Zoo studio in Miami, for a wide-ranging conversation on everything from his father (musician/promoter Van Gibbs) to Nas’ then freshly released Life is Good album. One memorable story he shared with us involved the genesis of Ini Kamoze‘s “Here Comes the Hotstepper,” Remi’s first production to top the Billboard singles chaart. With today being Ini Kamoze’s 57th birthday, and the 20th anniversary of “Hotstepper” hitting No. 1 looming on the horizon, we thought we’d let Mr. Remi tell the story...
Ini [Kamoze], at the time, was going through a lot of personal turmoil. Street stuff. He was in the belly of the beast, staying in Brooklyn, in the PJs, on the low. He was already esteemed as a reggae artist, and had the huge “Hotstepper” record that was working on [a] reggae level, but he was in a situation were he was going through a lot. I’ll just leave it there. He came in [to the studio] with a cast on saying, “Yeah, the homies got me.” He had a bullet in his hand.
But he was also a lyricist that was listening to Cypress Hill, and everything else. His “Naaa nanana naaa nana na naaaa” was his version of Cypress Hill going “Laa la laa la la la la laaaaaa” [in “Hand on the Pump”]. He was listening to Das EFX and Cypress. His lyrics, “I’m a lyrical gangsta, murderer” was the combination of hip hop’s energy, lyrically.
So I’m listening to the acapella, and my remix vibe at that time was putting 80’s stuff underneath [things], and then one day it hit me. My father [Van Gibbs] arranged what became [Taana Gardner’s] “Heartbeat,” the original track [sampled on “Here Comes the Hotstepper”]. The [producers] did it over but it was really his creation, so he was able to make that [sample] go through.
I tweaked it and played it for [Funkmaster] Flex and Angie [Martinez], and they were like “Yo, that is hot.” Steve Smith, who was program director of Hot 97 at the time, was asking what records are happening, and the two records that Angie pushed forward were “Nappy Heads” and “Here Comes the Hotstepper.” My dad had Beats to the Streets promotions at the time. We made the record hot.
Once it blew up, a bidding war happened. And [Ini] was like, “You know what, Jah sent this for me, I had a vision, this wasn’t necessarily something that you did.” So they decided rather then pay me to do the album after that, [they would do it] on their own, and the result was such… doing over songs that didn’t necessarily work out.
But that record [“Here Comes the Hotstepper”] had the Smurfs sing it in Swedish. It is a staple of my catalog and a great example of how something that was made for Brooklyn under a bit of stress—”Heartbeat” is Brooklyn, “Murderer” is Brooklyn, the energy was made for the jerk chicken spot on Flatbush— translated and worked in Iowa, and anywhere around the world, and in different languages.