With the advent of media sources such as Youtube, Myspace and countless other streaming music sites, blogs, and file-sharing sites; the term “remix” has generally taken on quasi-negative connotations. For every remix that shines there are far more that fall way flat of whatever the original source may be. As difficult as it is to produce one good track; the task of successfully remixing a complete album is a huge challenge. Often times either the identity of the source or the identity of the producer is lost in the process.
On ‘We’re New Here’, we are actually able to find this rare balance between mixer and mixee; or in this case Jamie xx (Jamie Smith of The xx) and soul/jazz pioneer Gil Scott-Heron. Those who are familiar with The xx are probably used to the more subdued and downbeat tracks off of their highly acclaimed self-titled debut. While Jamie xx’s debut shares a similar electronic soundscape to The xx, here we can find many more elements more commonly found in UK’s burgeoning dubstep scene. And while those two adjectives may scare off many (as well as attract many more), all of these elements are fused together quite harmoniously with the soulful and poetic lyric’s taken from Scott-Heron’s brilliant 2010 album ‘I’m New Here’.
The past year has been quite the comeback for Gil Scott-Heron. I’m New Here was released last February to critical acclaim, he then found himself in a feature role towards the end of Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (“Lost in the World”, “Who Will Survive in America”). Later in November, Jamie xx’s remix of “NY Is Killing Me” went viral, which was followed up by “I’ll Take Care of U”. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed that ‘We’re New Here’ would be released early in 2011.
While the pairing of Smith and Scott-Heron seems unlikely at first; ‘We’re New Here’ should provide a nice platform for both artists to be exposed to a greater audience that may have missed out on them otherwise. Scott-Heron has long been a muse for hip-hop artists being sampled by artists such as Dr. Dre, Talib Kweli, Common, and the aforementioned Kanye West . With ‘We’re New Here’, Scott-Heron takes the starring role while Jamie xx provides the bass and beats.
Even the creation of this album seems rather straightforward. Scott-Heron’s albums rely on his distinct and raspy voice as well as the recital of his words; which are sometimes spoken with very little background noise. Jamie xx basically takes the vocals from ‘I’m New Here’ and places them in a different setting giving the new album an entirely different feel.
The album opens with the lyrics “I did not become someone different that I did not want to be, but I’m new here – will you show me around?” – a fitting opening, originally coined for the ‘I’m New Here’s’ title track but in this context seems to be even more appropriate. Scott-Heron’s vocals are gradually give way to somewhat of a hip-hop beat as Jamie xx makes his presence be known. This track goes into a spacier atmospheric effect, which wraps around the lyrics in “Home,” taken from Scott-Heron’s older classic “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”
“NY Is Killing Me” feels even more haunting in the context of this album as it is preceded by a brief snippet of the piano melody isolated from the original track. The song then turns into a pulsating and haunting anthem; reflecting the mood of the lyrics. While this track seems like it could be heard late at night in an underground club it still retains the lonely feeling of being isolated even while surrounded by millions.
The album tends to work the best towards the end, where we find another brief and stripped back piece followed by “I’ll Take Care Of U.” Here we find a tender and uplifting song structured around a rave-like beat, completely changing the darker mood found in much else of the album.
This album definitely sounds different than other previously recorded work by each of the artists, but it still contains references to many different styles. Jamie xx was successful in creating a completely new album from reworking another and it should be interesting to see how he develops as a producer (he is also working on Drake’s sophomore album in addition to his own band’s follow-up). With releases such as this; Jamie xx is quickly developing a name for himself; even with another legendary artist attached to the project.