Of all the companies who might call themselves the hip-hop brand of vodka, I'm at a loss for what Smirnoff's case would be.

On the one hand, you've got these ultra-premium brands of vodka like Grey Goose and Ketel One, which obviously appeal to black people's tendency to wear their wealth (such as it is) on their backs.

Never mind the fact that vodka supposedly doesn't taste like anything anyway. So why bother spending an exorbitant sum on some shit you can't even taste? Unless you're gonna get some of that fruity flavored vodka shit, which is just teh ghey.

Also, it's not like anyone other than maybe homeless Russian people drinks Vodka straight up. Once you pour enough Red Bull in it, the shit's just gonna end up tasting like Red Bull, regardless of how much you paid for it.

On the other hand, you've got bottom-shelf brands like Congress and Aristocrat, which I certainly drank my share of when I was in college. I remember I used to get a handle of Aristocrat for something ridonkulous like $9.99, at the the kind of gas station where you could also take a shower.

(Note, in case anyone's wondering: No, I've never taken a shower in a gas station.)

Which is way less than what it costs for a handle of Smirnoff. (I should know, my little brother brings one in here seemingly every few days.) I don't even think you could get a fifth of Smirnoff for that price even back then, i.e like five years ago.

These bottom-shelf brands of vodka strike me as more hip-hop than Smirnoff, in that drinking low-cost alcohol in general - whether it's Congress, or Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, or, if you're a Native American Indian, radiator fluid - is hip-hop in its essence, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Just like springing for Grey Goose to impress the kind of broad who's impressed by a guy with nine dollars in his pocket, scraping together every last bit of money you have to buy a big bottle of shit to help you forget just how fucked the fuck up your life is speaks to the hip-hop ethos.

Meanwhile, brands like Smirnoff and Skyy kinda occupy that gray region where, even though I stay surrounded by people with a constant need to self-medicate, I've never even once heard of someone either a) buying a bottle of Smirnoff for the taste, or b) buying a bottle of Smirnoff to impress a girl.

Therefore, you can see why Smirnoff might need some sort of marketing plan to make itself more appealing to the hip-hop community.

Enter the Smirnoff Signature Mix Series, a series of classic hip-hop records recreated by some of the top producers in hip-hop, and also Cool and Dre. All brought to you thanks to the largess of the good people at Smirnoff.

I got the idea yesterday to do a story on whether or not the three joints in the Smirnoff Signature Mix Series are any good, but then I realized that all three of them haven't been released yet. I made it to the SSMS website, where you can download the first two joints, KRS-One and DJ Premier's new version of "Criminal Minded," and Common and Just Blaze's new version of "The Light," only to find out that the third one, Q-Tip and Cool and Dre's new version of "Midnight" won't be released until next Tuesday.

Then I got called into the BGM, so I just said fuck it.

Obviously what's going on here is that they're gonna continue to milk this little marketing stunt of theirs for as long as they possibly can. On the site, there's also links to videos I guess they're gonna make for each of the tracks that don't even list dates for when they're gonna be posted. So for all we know, we could still be earing about this shit well into the summer. (When it's an especially good idea to do a lot of drinking!)

I figured I might just wait until Tuesday (which also happens to be some asshole's 27th birthday) to describe how each new track isn't as good as the original, but then I decided against that on the grounds that a) that would just be playing into their little marketing scheme, as if anyone's cutting me a check for this shit; and b) a Cool and Dre remake of an album track from Midnight Marauders with a post-Kamaal the Abstract Q-Tip couldn't possibly be worth a shit anyway.

So here goes. My thoughts on the first two tracks in the Smirnoff Signature Mix Series.

KRS-One and DJ Premier collaborating on a new version of Criminal Minded should've been the tits. If KRS-One has lost a step on the mic, he might be even more amusing to me as an MC for the fact that he's clearly fucking insane. And pretty much all of the other times KRS-One and DJ Premier have teamed up, the end result was nails.

But this new version of "Criminal Minded" is decidedly lame, and I'm gonna have to lay the blame with DJ Premier, who - aside from his work with my fantasy woman Christina Aguilera (check out her cans in this clip) - hasn't had a good idea in ages. His actual hip-hop shit fell off hard some time in between Moment of Truth and The Ownerz, and this track is just a reminder of that fact.

Which brings me to Common's new version of "The Light" with Just Blaze. (Ha!) Teh ghey as it was, the original was one of the few bright spots on Common's ?uestlove'd out (which is to say, lame-ass) 2000 set I Refuse to Type This Ridonkulous Album Title, courtesy of the production by the late, great J Dilla. (Compare it to the requisite songs for the bitches on the past few Common albums in a row. Like this one. Blech!)

You would think that taking a song that was mostly tolerable for its production and then stripping out said production would be an awful idea, but Just Blaze's work on this new version isn't half that bad for what it is. It kinda reminds me of the last track on the last Game album, maybe because it's also got that broad from Floetry on it. It's definitely not my kind of thing, but I could see burning a copy of it to CD, in case I'm ever in the car with the kind of broad who would appreciate that sort of thing.

Then I'd take her back to my place, i.e. mom's basement, get her lit off Congress (in a bottle that says Grey Goose, natch), and try to take advantage of her in her drunken state.

Now that would be hip-hop!