I’m New Here, the 2010 album by American spoken word artist and musician Gil Scott-Heron was remixed on Feb. 22 by Jamie Smith (a.k.a. “Jamie xx”) of the English indie trio The xx. The result is a sultry combination of Scott-Heron’s soul and Smith’s electronic skills: We’re New Here
Smith used material from Scott-Heron’s original studio sessions to create this 13-track album. Some of the songs, like “My Cloud” and “Piano Player” use voice recordings that did not make it onto I’m New Here. Many tracks have the same as or similar titles to the songs on the original, but that doesn’t mean they follow the originals closely.
Smith’s beats create a fullness to the music unrealized in the original album. Scott-Heron’s powerful rasp and rhythm-filled verses successfully tackle large issues like consumerism, prejudice and family drama through a fusion of spoken word, jazz and soul. The remixes breathe a life into the words that was not as apparent in the original and may help market Scott-Heron to a wider audience.
Smith’s changes work beautifully on tracks like “Running” and the very xx-sounding “I’ll Take Care Of U,” where he creates a sound divergent from — but still evocative of — the original. The meaning of Scott-Heron’s words are not often overshadowed for the sake of the music.
Instead, the music makes the words into something to which you can dance. “NY Is Killing Me” and “I’m New Here” are now rooted in dubstep. The latter track, the first on the album, sounds like something J Dilla would have dreamed if he were running a high fever. Smith brings a variety of unusual voice and instrumental samplings to the original vocal tracks. Woven together as they are, the mix fits.
This highlights another curious phenomenon of the album: Scott-Heron, a man whose career has spanned decades and who is often noted as “the godfather of rap” and Jamie Smith, with one other album under his belt (The xx’s self-titled debut), are not the most likely of musical pairings.
But as mash-ups, dubstep and all of the other fantastic byproducts of technology have shown us, the most unlikely combinations can sometimes yield spectacular results.
We’re New Here should be heralded as a great success as well as a great example of what atypical collaborations can achieve.
Though the remix lacks a lot of the eeriness and showcasing of Scott-Heron’s story-telling ability, I loved the original album’s successful remixes the way they ought to be. Like translation, a good remix gets across the message of the original in a way the target audience understands and finds entertaining. It’s an act of creation, and from the remixed title track to concluding the last “I’ll Take Care of U,” these collaborators have created something great.