Ten years ago, Gil Scott-Heron released, possibly, his defining album ‘I’m New Here’. It was the distillation of a life’s work. Part autobiography, part life lessons it was a fantastic album from a truly awe-inspiring and revolutionary artist.
To mark its 10th anniversary, almost to the day, XL Recordings commissioned jazz musician Makaya McCraven to reimagine it. During the creation process McCraven decided not to listen to the original album, nor Jamie xx’s 2011 remix album. Instead McCraven opted to just focus on the original vocals takes.
‘Where Did The Night Go’ is one of the standout moments on the album. The original is a tight 1:14 vocal performance with a sparse electronic backing track, but in McCraven’s musical world building it becomes something light filled with lithe flutes, supple bass and agile percussion. There is a hazy nocturnal vibe that echoes the story Scott-Heron is telling about procrastinating by playing records instead of late-night letter writing.
The main difference between Jamie xx and McCraven’s take on the album is that McCraven has reimagined Scott-Heron’s words whereas it feels like Jamie xx had some incredible songs and dropped Scott-Heron’s vocals in them. Of course, this is an unfair generalisation, but compare both versions of ‘New York Is Killing Me’. McCraven creates a full-blown jazzy monster that has a place in his rich back catalogue, whereas Jamie xx shoehorned the title and built a track with heaving basslines and crunching beats under it.
‘We’re New Again’ is an incredible album that feels more like ‘I’m New Here 2.0’ rather than a reworked version. This is down to McCraven being respectful with the source material. Rather than make a jazzier version of the original, he found the natural rhythm to the lyrics and built songs around them.
In doing so, Makaya McCraven breathes new life into not only the album but Scott-Heron’s legacy.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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