Team Teamwork’s reimagining of Nobuo Uematsu’s historic soundtrack to the 1997 PlayStation role-playing game Final Fantasy VII was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of inspired brilliance. Teamwork, a.k.a. Boston-based graphic designer Tim Jacques, infused Uematsu’s fanciful MIDI compositions with vocal samples from a glut of hip-hop’s most celebrated wordsmiths: Raekwon, MF Doom, OutKast, Slum Village, Jay-Z, and Ghostface Killah. But after pressure from copyright holders of the tracks he had sampled, Jacques has pulled the cleverly titled Vinyl Fantasy 7 from his page on music publishing platform Bandcamp. Of course, as the mash-up artist explains, “It’s impossible to remove something from the Internet. So, even if I’m not distributing it, somebody out there probably is.” Yes, indeed, somebody “probably” is, and we’ve managed to track down the notorious RPG-rap pioneer for a few questions, as he walks us through his most coveted release to date.
Vinyl Fantasy 7 works as far more than indulgent nostalgia, which is a testament to the game’s original score, Jacques’s mixing ability, and the stars that have been sampled. Fans of the game will, of course, be interested in hearing mash-ups of the soundtrack’s most memorable numbers (the first Mako reactor, the Battle sequences, and the haunting City of the Ancients), and though this has been pertinently satisfied, Jacques insists, “I didn’t feel pressure to incorporate anything…I just used what felt right and sounded the most appropriate.”
Such explains his strong selections, varying the tempo and timbre of tracks that work wonderfully as hip-hop instrumentals. For “Air (Barrett’s Theme),” arguably the strongest mashup of the 12 on offer, the original’s measured walking hook is accelerated umpteen gears and enforced with finger snapping and marching drums. It’s a brisk and breezy ditty, seemingly tailor-made for MF Doom’s silver-tongued flow: “The beat is sicker than the blood in your stool/The way it repeats to trick you like a stuttering fool.” When asked how this particular marriage came about, Jacques explained, “After picking [the track] and syncing it up to samples, I thought Barrett’s theme fit Doom’s flow perfectly in tone and cadence.”
On which areas of Vinyl Fantasy 7 he was especially pleased with, Jacques said that he’s proud of all the songs: “My favorites are the Ghostface track, the OutKast/Raekwon track, and the Doom track.” Ghostface Killah appears on the compilation’s curtain call, where his “Save Me Dear” from The Pretty Toney Album is paired with an ethereal sample from the video game’s “City of the Ancients.” “With Ghostface, the original beat is really sunny and positive, but lyrically, it could go either way,” Jacques told me. “So I thought it would be a nice change of pace to hear what it would be like on a slower beat.” The results are astonishing, banishing the original’s bubbly piano and horn section in favor of distorted synths and shrill violin plucking. This provides the track with a dark and brooding backcloth, breathing new life into Ghostface’s intense lyrics.
Similarly, “Get Dis Money (One-Winged Angel),” puts a completely different spin on its source material. Where Slum Village’s original verses from Fantastic Vol. 2 were crooned over J. Dilla’s leisurely beat, Jacques throws them atop a frenzied thumper with synthesisers channelled through a distorted flange pedal. Vinyl Fantasy 7 is at its most impressive when these chalk and cheese samples are mixed so sinuously, offering complete overhauls of both the instrumental and a cappella sections. Jacques affirms, “I don’t really think of it that way, like that there’s a challenge to [make] dramatic changes. It’s just a by-product of my process, syncing up samples and seeing what sounds most interesting. The real challenge is just trying to make a song sound good.”
For those who were lucky enough to download it before Team Teamwork received a cease and desist order, or those cunning enough to find it elsewhere, Vinyl Fantasy 7 is a unique and accomplished compilation. It will certainly satisfy wistful fans of the landmark video game, putting ultramodern spins on a sublime soundtrack, but it also works as a standalone hip-hop record. It’s a shame, then, that sample-clearing issues have robbed the release of widespread availability. The hip-hop industry is built on borrowing beats, and the market is awash with mixtapes and mash-ups that take the same liberties as Team Teamwork has here. Jacques himself remains upbeat amid the commotion: “Maybe people will think I’m a badass for having been served a legal notice? I dunno…Next is starting work on The Good Ass Remixes Vol. 2.”
I urge hip-hop fans, especially those who’ve played Final Fantasy VII, to hunt down Vinyl Fantasy 7 from whatever deplorable depths of the worldwide web deal in piracy. Go on, be naughty.