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Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - We’re New Here

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Artist: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx

Album: We’re New Here

Label: XL

Review date: Mar. 1, 2011

Check out the nuts on this Jamie xx character. Who does he think he is?

We all know Gil Scott-Heron. One of the original rappers, the creator of the timeless syncopated rant “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” as permanent a fixture in American culture as the Gettysburg Address, no matter how far removed from context. A self-made nerd who learned hardcore music theory before he started rapping, intimately knew every hook he dropped his voice on, and smacked the gangsta rappers of the ‘90s not so much for their nihilism as for not doing likewise and coming by nihilism honestly. For not being fully human. Which he always was, and remains. Lately more than ever.

Now in his 60s, Scott-Heron is having more than his share of problems. The original political rapper has done time for drugs, repeatedly. He acknowledges this without shame, along with all the other misery he’s encountered as he’s found himself closer to the end of the line than the beginning, on his 2009 LP I’m New Here. In lieu of beat-jazz, he opts for icy, barely rhythmic electronic atmosphere. His voice is slurred, tired and old. But he’s never had a broader awareness of the human condition, and his relentless empathy has never been more road-tested poignant. Get that album now … but if you want to listen to Jamie xx’s remixed version first, go ahead. I do not say this lightly.

Jamie xx is the resident producer for the xx, a British pop group that NME liked two summers ago. And now he has the balls to dig into I’m New Here and rearrange Scott-Heron’s deeply pained, deeply self-loathing and wise vocals over… well, basically disco beats. He even had the balls to call it We’re New Here, as though he had the faintest clue. And the result is deep, it’s broadly imaginative, it’s tightly focused, and it’s utterly essential.

His resonant, glistening backdrops turn the bold confessional “I’ll Take Care of U” into a dance-floor smash, the fierce j’accuse “New York Is Killing Me" into a schedule-two mood destroyer, and the regretful-but-shameless lament “My Cloud” into an end-credits pop ballad. The motherfucker is good. He never upstages the master — he brings something entirely new and utterly enveloping, utterly respecting Scott-Heron’s urge to live in the present.

This version is longer by about five minutes. But you can listen to the old one and the new one in a little over an hour. Which I insist is worth your time. As long as we’re finding new ways to do everything, we should work on finding new ways to understand the wisdom of our elders.

By Emerson Dameron

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