By now, it's safe to say that "Ignition (Remix)" is one of the most beloved pop songs of the 21st century. It peaked at #2 upon its release—ten years ago today, didn't cha know—the highest of any of his singles since "I Believe I Can Fly," and has only grown in esteem since then, with nearly every line becoming an iconic, instantly recognizable phrase. It was ranked as one of the 20 best songs of the decade by publications as diverse as Complex and Pitchfork. John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (and Future Poet Laureate) even tried to come up with a Top 100 list of reasons the song was great. (He needed some help, but eventually got to 100 and kept going.)
Absolutely none of these things are true about "Ignition."
If that sentence sounds confusing, that's understandable. But when R. Kelly says "It's the remix to 'Ignition,'" that's not just idle talk–"Ignition (Remix)" really is a remix (or a sequel, or a spin-off—more on that in a minute), and there is an "Ignition" (Regular) that precedes it. Not only that, but on Chocolate Factory, the 2003 Kells album that the song stems from, both "Ignition" and "Remix" are on the album, and back-to-back in the tracklist, with the original version segueing seamlessly into the remix. (If "Ignition (Remix)" always kinda sounded to you like it was picking up mid-sentence, that's because the break in between the two tracks comes smack in the middle of a musical phrase, and if you were listening to the album in its entirety, you'd probably never even know they were supposed to be two separate tracks.)
The original "Ignition" was released to R&B radio upon the album's release, but failed to really gain traction, whereas the remix Owas an immediate hit and quickly crossed over to pop audiences. Listening to the songs back to back, it's not hugely surprising that the Remix is the one that took off—though both songs are the same tempo, there's a certain breeziness to the Remix that's lacking from the original, a carefree, sublime quality that few songs before or since have equaled. It also lays on the cars-as-sex extended metaphor, present but not pervasive in the Remix, in a super-thick manner ("So buckle up 'cause this can get bumpy, babe / Now hit the lights and check out all my functions, babe") that gets a little exhausting before song's end.
Still, as with many great sequels, you can't really understand "Ignition (Remix)" without listening to the original first. And that's really what "Remix" is, more than an actual remix—rather than keeping the song's lyrics and just changing the music underneath, as a traditional remix would, Remix takes certain lyrical elements (the whole "Ignition" theme, and the "Cause we off up in this jeep / We foggin' up the windows" couplet that reappears in the Remix outro) and musical elements (the wah-wahed guitar riff, subtle splashing rhythm sounds), and weaves them into a song that's basically brand new. "Ignition Pt. II" would've been a much more accurate title.
And as superior as Remix unquestionably is, there's shared DNA with the original that makes it similarly irresistible. The Original is obviously trying a lot less hard to be a coherent pop single, and as such, it's basically just Kells waxing carsex rhapsodic for three-minutes over a slippery funk beat, a free-form jam whose chorus doesn't sound any different from any of its verses. As repetitive as it might get by song's end, it's still hypnotic, and undeniably charming—after all, this guy is no stranger to the cars-as-sex slow jam, and nobody does it better—and by the time you get to "Have you ever driven a stick, babe? / You'll be screaming every time we shiftin' gears, babe," you're powerless to fight it. It'll never overtake the remix in popularity, but it's a worthy chapter in the "Ignition" Saga.
Of course, there is still one subculture in which the original "Ignition" lives on in infamy: Amongst karaoke regulars. The Remix is an unsurprising karaoke standard—or at least, it would be, but so often the "Ignition" listed in karaoke books (especially those of the popular SingStar variety) is of the far-less-familiar original, leading to an extremely awkward three-minute sequence where the performer stares terrified at the lyrics on the screen, trying gamely to keep up but hopelessly unfamiliar with the material. (Ask just about anyone who karaokes regularly, and they'll have a horror story either about trying to do the song themselves, or witnessing someone else crash and burn on it.)
The karaoke infamy of "Ignition" Original seems a fair legacy for such a weird, formless song which has been roundly (if somewhat unfairly) overshadowed by its hipper younger brother. And hey, maybe next time you're out singing with your friends, come prepared with knowledge of Original in your back pocket, and impress them (fraudulently) with your ability to improvise.