Gil Scott-Heron is one of the foremost figures in the creation of rap music, and yet music audiences have largely forgotten him. He released a new album, “I’m New Here,” to critical acclaim and buyer apathy. It is ironic that the artist who reached out to do a remix of the album was Jamie xx, of British alternative act The xx, and not a grateful hip-hop producer.
The good news is that Heron will be able to ride on Jamie’s coattails back into the public eye (The xx is at a high point, having just won the British Mercury Prize, the prize for best British musical act). The new instrumentation that Jamie provides to “We’re New Here” is like a slice of what he would normally provide to his regular band. His takes on Heron’s “Running,” and “I’ll Take Care of You” captures every bit of Heron’s weighty wordplay but makes the song as qualified for a dance floor as a poetry slam.
Unfortunately, Jamie tends to overdo it. The original album was spoken word with minimal production. Jamie’s beats, which might be perfect for The xx, tend to drown out Heron’s narratives, which were what kept listeners enraptured on “I’m New Here.”
The occasional removal of Heron’s lyrics to make a song more “electronic” is a travesty. “Your Soul and Mine” was an incredible track on “I’m New Here,” packing metaphorical tons of emotion into two minutes. On the remixed “Ur Soul and Mine,” he is relegated to repeating the hook “your soul and mine” over and over again. Electronica might not be big on lyrics, but Heron should be the showcase of the album, not Jamie.
Spoken word is not as easy for listeners as traditional rap music, so Jamie’s contributions might be more appealing to listeners. But I encourage them to give Heron’s original take a shot. Even if Heron spoke with no instrumental backing, it’d be worth hearing.