For most producers, the idea of remixing a Gil Scott-Heron album would be daunting indeed. But then Jamie Smith of The xx isn’t most producers. Clearly unfazed and creatively fired by the prospect, he has recast the Godfather of rap into new surrounds, Chicago and London co-existing in a myriad of sound.
Sensibly he doesn’t take the album on in track by track order – and manipulates some of the originals almost beyond recognition, but never beyond reason. For this is an extremely clever piece of work, moving easily between fast and slow, quiet and loud, soft and upbeat.
The irresistible collision of the established and the uprising shows itself to best effect on the shimmering title track, the cotton wool comfort of My Cloud or the sonorous chords of The Crutch, floating above a stuttering beat. Smith hints at dubstep, garage, house music even, but never lays down his roots in a genre for long enough to call it home. As a result there is often an edginess that complements Scott-Heron’s vocals.
Meanwhile Running goes through about three separate tracks in one, with a breakdown that ought to be the centrepiece of a dank London club proving instead a stop-start commentary on Gil himself. Ur Soul And Mine takes us out on the streets of London at dawn, fragments of Rui Da Silva‘s Touch Me drifting in and out of focus as we turn down dingy back alleyways.
Throughout Smith executes some fascinating textures, many of them creating a fuzzy, late night / early dawn effect, several of them richly colourful. He creates that feeling of a late summer night; descriptive, warm and fuzzy, tantalisingly within reach even if listened to in sub zero temperatures.
So from no albums in 13 years to two high quality long players in the space of six months – the star of Gil Scott-Heron is very much in the ascendency again, his influence on today’s culture thrown into ever greater relevance by one of its finest new producers. It’s that rare thing – a properly fine remix album.