Tag Archives: james blake

Aaliyah lives on in remixes, samples and covers

On the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah’s death, it’s fair to expect plenty of tributes and memorials for the R&B sensation. Her passing, at the too-soon age of 22, left millions of fans without the singer who dominated and revolutionized the R&B landscape of their youth.

Thankfully, her music lives on. In fact, it’s even found new life thanks to a preponderance of bass music that draws heavily from the R&B of the late 1990s and early 2000s. For these producers, Aaliyah continues to be a muse, much as she was for Timbaland. Here are some of the best remixes, samples and covers of Aaliyah’s work.


“Are You That Somebody”

Brenmar, Cedaa and Deadboy are at the forefront of the rhythm and bass movement, and they’ve all taken one of Aaliyah’s most notable songs for a ride. The first two infused it with a juke and club vibe, amping up the energy on Timbaland’s classic beat, while Deadboy’s version is sparser.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/cedaa-aaliyah.mp3″ text=”Aaliyah – Are You That Somebody? (Cedaa remix)” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/deadboy-aaliyah.mp3″ text=”Aaliyah – Are You That Somebody? (Deadboy remix)” dl=0]

“4 Page Letter”

Montreal’s CFCF drags Aaliyah’s ballad into a moody, skittering exploration of bass. This one wouldn’t be out of place on Tri Angle Records.

“If Your Girl Only Knew”

Japan’s BD1982 gets dissonant on his street bass bootleg of “If Your Girl Only Knew,” juxtaposing Aaliyah’s gentle voice with wobbly synths and twinkling effects.

“One in a Million”

A bit of an outlier, this remix by Wolf D dates back to the song’s original release. However, the bouncy Miami bass beat has come back into vogue, giving this track an old school/new school feel.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/wolfd.mp3″ text=”Aaliyah – One In A Million (Wolf D Big Bass Mix)” dl=0]

Moombahton with Sonora

San Antonio producer Sonora has a firm hand on the moombahton derivative moombahsoul, as evidenced by his tropical edits of “Rock the Boat” and “One in a Million” (titled “Amor de Aaliyah”). The latter is an especially smooth edit.


Two masters of post-dubstep bass music have built songs around Aaliyah samples, in different but effective ways. James Blake’s “CMYK” is a grower, and a sample from “Are You That Somebody” soars above waves of synth and sub-bass. Zomby’s rave throwback “Float” features a “Rock the Boat” couplet (“Boy you know you make me float / Boy you get me high”) as its hook.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads//2011/08/cmyk.mp3″ text=”James Blake – CMYK” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/float.mp3″ text=”Zomby – Float” dl=0]

Similarly, both Drake and associated act The Weeknd have used bits of Aaliyah’s vocals for their songs, on “Unforgettable” and “What You Need,” respectively. In the latter, it’s as a distorted loop in the sensual mix.


The XX’s trademarked sound strips R&B down to its minimalist essentials; their cover of “Hot Like Fire” does the same. On the other hand, UK funky vocalist Kyla covers of “At Your Best” much in the same slow jam style of the original.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/xx_hot.mp3″ text=”The XX – Hot Like Fire” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Kyla – At Your Best.mp3″ text=”Kyla – At Your Best” dl=1]

Aaliyah may be gone, but it’s clear that she is not forgotten. A generation of artists continue to pay tribute to the R&B singer, and her voice lives on.

Update: As he’s been known to do, Hudson Mohawke just outdid everyone with his latest remix. Here’s his massive, aqua crunk take on “Are You That Somebody?”

Mixtape Monday: Kreayshawn / James Drake / Dev79

Kreayshawn X The Bay

This 20-minute tape by El Paso’s Nato Vato Taco mashes the Based Goddess‘ tracks with classic Bay Area beats and verses by the likes of E-40, C-Bo, Luniz, Mac Dre, Dru Down, C.I.N, IMP, and Potna Deuce. The result is equal parts hazy and hyphy, a reprieve from constant replays of “Bumpin’ Bumpin'” and “Gucci Gucci” (the latter of which has been pulled off YouTube for a mysterious Terms of Service violation). At the very least, it will help you with your Kreayshawn fix until Mishka/Clan Destine release Murdered in Memphis (teaser below).

Bombé & Mr. Caribbean – James Drake Mixtape

Another mash-up mixtape, this time blending the music of James Blake and Drake. While not relevant since at least The Grey Album, creations like this capture the zeitgeist like a firefly in a bottle: fleeting, but fun while it lasts. Exploitative? Sure, but the common ground between the two artists puts a new spin on old favorites. Blake’s R&B influence lends itself to Drake’s lazy boy rapping, and DJs Bombé and Mr. Caribbean dig deep into Blake’s catalog for some understated combinations.

Dev79 presents Street Bass Bootlegs

Here’s another angle on rhythm and bass: grimey, street bass remixes of radio rap songs. Everyone from Wacka Flocka to Gucci Mane to Daddy Yankee gets the hood-step treatment. Highlights include BD1982’s remix of Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” and the 6blocc edit of the Rye Rye / Starkey collab “VHS Go.” I’m increasingly weary of anything resembly dubstep remixes, but Philadelphia’s Dev79 has the low end under control; check out his take on the Travis Porter hit “Make It Rain.”

Download: Kreayshawn X The Bay
Download: Bombé & Mr. Caribbean – James Drake Mixtape
Download: Dev79 presents Street Bass Bootlegs

Video Rundown: Creep / James Blake / Frank Ocean

Here are a trio of videos that start to fill in the blanks around buzzworthy – yet mysterious – artists.

With only one official release to their name (“Days”), it was difficult to pinpoint the sound of CREEP; it takes more than a single point to define an artist. But with the release of the video for “You,” the points are beginning to form a line.

The video for “You” is a study in duality, in the same way that the’s goth-tinged R&B balances light and dark. The stark, black and white clip intersperses images of both duos responsible for the song – CREEP and twin sister vocalists Nina Sky. CREEP is mostly shown in silhouette or out-of-focus, practically stalking Nina Sky down an otherworldy hallway. There is a sensuality to the clip that matches its eeriness; what’s with the stigmata imagery?

Somehow, the video for James Blake‘s “Lindisfarne” is creepier than Creep’s offering. The mellow, finger-picked song is accompanied by an uneasy, almost cultish video. Who are these misfit toys, with their strange rituals, both corporeal and metaphorical? I’m guessing most viewers will find the literal spit swapping gross, not nostalgic; this generation didn’t have the liberty of becoming blood brothers, or using any other bodily-fluid-swapping bonding. Still, the feelings of abuse and loss in a clip that – at first glance – could be out of a British coming of age film, are quite surprising.

Nothing about Frank Ocean or his associates in Odd Future is predictable, so when he released “Acura Integurl” as the lead video for Nostalgia, Ultra (instead of “Novacane”), no one should have been surprised. Despite not appearing on the mixtape version of the album, the piano ballad is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

The impossibly lush video features Ocean, lovelorn and driving an Acura down the highway. The video effects that obscure the rising heartthrob serve only to increase the mystery and allure that surround him. Nostalgia, Ultra is set to be re-released on May 31, after which he should be able to buy the video’s sports car.


Live: James Blake at the Rock and Roll Hotel

The Rock and Roll Hotel was the most ill-suited venue to host James Blake, as it did on Sunday night. The shoebox-shaped venue isn’t blessed with the best sound system (that would be U Street Music Hall) or even decent sight lines (like the Black Cat). Worst still, the venue is, as the Washington Post’s Chris Richards noted, the place “where 20-somethings pay to be seen (and heard) while the latest Pitchfork-approved talents try to justify their hype onstage.” For an artist like Blake, who makes minimal, down-tempo music, I was apprehensive about the show, to say the least.

Photo © Mike Katzif

Despite the venue’s many faults, the show was nothing less than superb, thanks wholly to Blake and company’s captivating performance. The former funeral home was at its most tomb-like, with a mostly appreciative, respectful crowd. Moments of pin-drop silence punctuated the set; Blake often had to whisper “thank you” before the crowd would reward him with boisterous applause.

As his self-titled album does, the set began with the clicks and pulses of “Unluck,” its discrete pieces seemingly dancing to their own drummers before gracefully fitting together. On “Give Me My Month,” Blake gilded the hymnal with jazzy piano flourishes, and followed it up with the instrumental “Tep and the Logic,” a B-side that features waves of tremolo guitars and not much else.

After a bit of a false start, the amiable Blake launched into “I Never Learnt to Share.” His lilting vocal harmonies resembled weeping more than anything. The song was the night’s first example of what “post-dubstep” might mean: a slowburning melody that gives way to unrelenting sub-bass and synths.

Throughout his set, Blake shifted from moments of sparse simplicity to ones of overwhelming, enveloping sound, and back again. After “I Never Learnt to Share,” the gentle fingerpicking of “Lindesfarne” followed a transcendent moment with a contemplative one.

Transferring Blake’s recorded works from the bedroom to the big room is no small feat, yet Blake and compatriots Rob McAndrews (guitar) and Ben Assister (percussion) handled it deftly. Performing “Klavierwerke” (off the EP of the same name) live was impressive on its on, with its Burial-esque dubstep groove, hi-hat click track, and sped-up, funky breakdown.

The set definitely pushed the limits of Rock and Roll’s sound system. Thankfully, the speakers popped only once, and a brief power outage provided a moment of levity, during “Limit to Your Love.” On that song, with its propeller bass and an beefed-up drum break, Blake has done to Feist’s ballad what Jimi Hendrix did to Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (admittedly on a much smaller scale).

Blake demurely closed the set with “Wilhelms Scream,” which had a crisper guitar and punchier sonics than the recorded version. Returning for an encore, Blake played a new, untitled song, solo with synthesizer. The church organ and “we can hope for heartbreak now” lyric ended the night on a poignant note. The Rock and Roll Hotel wasn’t perfect, but James Blake was, living up to the hype (and then some).

The new R&B: Rhythm and bass

Each successive generation of musicians brings its own group of influences to the table. For a rising group of electronic music producers, this means mining the catalog of turn-of-the-century R&B in the service of soulful, hook-laden dubstep, funky and bass tracks. Producers like Timbaland and Magoo loom as large as Burial and Joker for these twentysomething DJs, and for good reason: their groundbreaking R&B dominated the charts for the better part of these producers’ formative years.

Last year, I profiled Deadboy, whose limited catalog is already filled with reworkings of familiar R&B tracks. Along with takes on songs by Cassie and Ashanti, his latest is a “slo-mo house edit” of the downtempo Drake / Alicia Keys jam “Fireworks.” Deadboy’s is an improvement on the original, as he pitches up Keys’ chorus and drops Drake’s pedestrian verses. His remix of the Burial-produced “Night Air,” by UK crooner Jamie Woon, adds a funky beat and soaring synths; he also can’t resist chopping up Woon’s vocals in the chorus.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/fireworks.mp3″ text=”Drake – Fireworks (Deadboy Slo-mo House Edit)” dl=0]
[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/night_air.mp3″ text=”Jamie Woon – Night Air (Deadboy Remix)”]

Meanwhile, Future Grooves featuree Kavsrave has been dabbling with the soulful side luvstep. His Numbers EP Quotes features the surging bass of the dubstep derivative, with samples similar to those utilized by Deadboy. His as-of-yet unreleased “Deluded” flips the chorus of “Replacement Girl,” pitchshifting the vocals and seemingly changing the gender of singer Trey Songz.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/deluded.mp3″ text=”Kavsrave – Deluded” dl=0]

For fans of the critically-acclaimed James Blake, the R&B underpinnings of his self-titled debut are more obscured than on his earlier work. The dizzying “CMYK” relied on processed samples of Kelis and Aaliyah: hints of nostalgia in an otherwise forward-thinking song. It should be no surprise that Harmonimix, who crafted a jazzy, chiptune remix of “Bills Bills Bills,” was eventually revealed to be Blake: the 1999 hit would have been ubiquitous for the 22-year-old.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/CMYK.mp3″ text=”James Blake – CMYK” dl=0]

The latest Luvstep mix by Flufftronix and Dirty South Joe shined a spotlight on many of these producers, including Submerse and Psychonaught. Psychonaught’s “super tweaked RnB resteps” of tunes like “Nasty Girl” and “Birthday Sex” are available for free.

The greatest discovery off Luvstep 2, however, is Two Inch Punch. TIP is a self-described “frustrated Soul / RnB singer” who produces grooves with influences that go even deeper than his contemporaries. The shimmering “Love You Up” and “Luv Luv” will be self-released on April 4 in the UK.

The largely UK-driven explosion of bass music has been a Godsend for an electronic music scene at the tail of the electro movement. For EDM fans who came of age when R&B dominated the airwaves, this new form of R&B – rhythm and bass – is a welcome mix of nostalgia and modernism.

Bonus: When they’re not putting out tropical bass, Nguzunguzu has gotten into the R&B fun, as well. They turned Ciara’s “Deuces” into Baltimore club, and their recent “Perfect Lullaby” mix for DIS Magazine launches with a remix of the classic “The Boy is Mine.” The entire mix is worth a listen:

MP3: NGUZUNGUZU – The Perfect Lullaby Mixtape (via DIS Magazine)

Album Review: James Blake – James Blake

For an artist who is only 22 years old, James Blake has already had a lot of digital ink spilled about him. Over the past year, he released three highly acclaimed EPs and a few singles, all of which pales in comparison to his self-titled debut record (released today but building hype since it’s December leak).

From his earliest release, the single “Air & Lack Thereof / Sparing the Horse,” Blake laid down a marker for his sound: R&B-infused post-dubstep with pitchshifted vocals, soothing piano chords and pulsing swells of bass. His multi-layered, surging compositions put him in the company of artists like Mount Kimbie and Untold, on the less dance-oriented end of the spectrum. “The Bells Sketch” is typical of these releases; bits and pieces of the familiar and nostalgic, mechanical chirps and whirls next to processed vocals.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-The-Bells-Sketch.mp3″ text=”James Blake – The Bells Sketch” dl=”0″]

Many of the compositions on his records begin with minimal elements, like a simple piano melody and a two-step beat, before sneakily building into something ominous and claustrophobic. While they start as whispers and suggestions, the songs soon turn into several competing conversations. There’s an uneasiness that is not entirely unpleasant.

That trend continues on James Blake. While pushing against the boundaries of an increasingly characteristic sound, Blake has found a guiding principle in “less is more.” Throughout the record, Blake’s voice is processed and layered into a digital/analog cyborg, often repeating the same lyric. The overall effect is hypnotic and moving, as on “I Never Learnt to Share:” “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / but I don’t blame them” stays consistent, but the song builds and pulses, morphing their tone and meaning.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-I-Never-Learnt-To-Share.mp3″ text=”James Blake – I Never Learnt to Share” dl=”0″]

Covering Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” Blake keeps the melody but makes the song his own, adding a thick layer of sub-bass to the piano-driven ballad. It’s a trick he masters on the album; despite how sparse and minimal the songs tend to be, there is a rich low-end that adds a warmth to the predominantly cold compositions. Don’t be fooled – this is a record built for subwoofers, not earbuds.

The second single, “Wilhelms Scream,” is blessed with one of the album’s sweetest vocal melodies. The video for the song perfectly captures the interplay between high and low, foreground and background that Blake tools with here and elsewhere.

James Blake is quickly becoming a singular force in music. The closest match for both his sound and rapid rise would be the XX, another act that makes pure soul music, stripped of excess and focused on bass. And he seems poised to exceed even that lofty standard.