When Jamie Smith was a kid, long before he was a Mercury Prize winner as part of The XX, his parents used to play Gil Scott-Heron during dinner
Kim Taylor Bennett
We’re Here Now 4/5 When Jamie Smith was a kid, long before he was a Mercury Prize winner as part of The XX, his parents used to play Gil Scott-Heron during dinner. The Chicago-born godfather of rap’s soulful, sociopolitical musings provided an unlikely dining soundtrack. Now, years later, the softly-spoken production whizz-kid finds himself in the peculiar position of having remixed his hero’s latest album, I’m New Here. Released last year, it was Scott-Heron’s first record in 16 years.
Unexpectedly, Scott-Heron’s lyrics turned inward, his sound – produced by XL’s Richard Russell – embracing a more electronic bent. We’re Here Now is hardly a straightforward remix album. Rather Jamie cherry-picks and reimagines his favourites while pillaging Scott-Heron’s unreleased ’70s recordings. The inclusion of older material was not originally an idea that thrilled Scott-Heron. So Jamie composed a letter explaining his vision and his desire that the record be a 50/50 split between the two. As such, he makes Scott-Heron’s cover of Smog’s ‘I’m New Here’ unrecognisable, transforming it from a Leonard Cohen-like acoustic musing into a stuttering tune that’s suddenly submerged in undulating low-end bass throbs. ‘New York You’re Killing Me’ is similarly powerful, marked out by its subterranean bass whomp-whomp that pulls back before an almighty drop at the two-minute mark.
Scott-Heron’s vocals work equally well when underlaid with frenetic D&B beats (‘The Crutch’), and, as with The XX’s debut, each track bleeds beautifully into another. After receiving Jamie’s letter, Scott-Heron reportedly said, ‘Jamie knows more about this than I do, so let him do what he wants.’ A patchwork of sounds skilfully sewn, a deftly constructed bridge between the two artists, we bet the 61-year-old is pretty pleased with the results.