Tag Archives: the XX

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?”

"I'm New Here" versus "We're New Here"

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX couldn’t be any more different, as artists and as people. Scott-Heron is an iconoclastic poet, considered by many to be the Godfather of Rap. The 61-year old is well-worn after a life plagued by drug use, jail time, and HIV. Still, the man who gave us “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and the “Message to the Messengers” looms large, even after a 16 year absence from music (and life as we know it). Jamie XX (nee Smith), on the other hand, is the unlikely breakout star from an unlikely breakout group, The XX. The MPC manipulator is emerging as an artist to watch on the electronic music landscape: a man with his whole life and career ahead of him.

Last year, Scott-Heron returned to music with I’m New Here, produced by XL Records head Richard Russell. This week sees the release of We’re New Here, a remixed and re-imagined version of that album with Jamie XX behind the boards. The two artists collaborated by way of handwritten notes, not in the studio – an illustration of the metaphorical distance between the two. While the two albums are not a one-to-one translation (some songs on We’re New Here are based on outtakes from the original), the majority lines up nicely. So, how do they compare?

Song Breakdown Verdict
I’m New Here The blues-folk guitar on the titular record better captures the redemptive nature of the Smog original. On his effort, Smith pitchshifts Gloria Gaynor, replacing GSH’s sweetly sung chorus. We’re…
Your Soul and Mine The grimy, pulsing tones of the original better match the darkness of the lyrics. Smith’s version reduces “wilderness of heartbreak and a desert of despair” to a ghostly sample behind a wall of UK funky. I’m…
I’ll Take Care of You The original, a jazzy, piano-driven cover of Van Morrison, is fueled by Scott-Heron, broken voice and all. It’s a song that exists at the confluence of pain, love and devotion. The new version is a deep house jam with guitar riffs right out of an XX song, which gets points for its originality. We’re…
New York is Killing Me The much-hyped version from Jamie XX utilizes surging dubstep beats and broken vocal samples as a backdrop for the pleas of the forlorn narrator. The original relied on a Neptunesque click-clack-track, crafting a modern spirtual about North-South migration. We’re…
Running Jamie’s take upgrades the original’s minimal beat with the full-on, Hudson Mohawke-like aqua crunk treatment. We’re…
The Crutch The new version is overwhelmed by glitchy beats and synths that – while fine on their own – distract from the vocals. Ironically, the additional elements act as a crutch for a song that doesn’t need one. I’m…
Home / Coming from a broken home This is bit of Apples v. Oranges, but the “Flashing Lights”-sampling songs that bookend I’m New Here are the most poignant and personal of the album. Rather than attack those, Smith revisits “Home is where the hatred is,” turf mined more successfully on Kanye’s Late Registration. I’m…

While We’re New Here may win on points, it’s a split decision in the end. The records are symbiotic: at this point, there could not be one without the other. The first was an ironic statement from a prodigal giant; the second a clarion call from a bright new talent. Either way, this much is certain: while one is returning from exile and the other is insurgent, these are both artists with revolution in mind.

The Notorious XX

The mash-up is dead. Long live the mash-up.

Most mash-ups face the same problem that Homer Simpson’s barbershop quartet faced: something that is witty at first, but is less interesting each time you hear it. Case in point: “Jay-Z and Radiohead, what a brilliant idea!” For a mash-up to be relevant, there needs to be a synergizing quality about the musicians – not just a quirky, ironic pairing of dissimilar artists.

San Francisco DJ Wait What’s “Notorious XX” mixtape reveals a pairing that benefits both Biggie Smalls and indie darlings the XX. Biggie’s laidback flow is a perfect complement to the chill, R&B-infused instrumentals provided by London three-piece. The vocal hooks by dual XX singers Romy Croft and Oliver Sim even work in the same context for Biggie’s songs, giving a fresh sound to well-worn classics.

Some tracks work better than others: “Juicy-r” and “Basic hypnosis” are natural fits. However, songs that feature other Bad Boy stars don’t fare as well: neither Puffy or Ma$e have a cadence or style that match the beats. And I wished that “Suicidal Fantasy” worked better, because the same brooding tone dominates both the lyrics and music. Still, there are enough winning combinations over the 11 tracks to make this a worthwhile listen.

The xx @ DC9, 11/15/09

Acts that play DC9 usually unload their gear from the backs of their own vans and cars, so the sight of a truly rock-and-roll tour bus outside the club on Sunday meant only one thing: “It” band of the moment The XX had rolled into town on a bus befitting their bloghaus buzz.

Since forming in 2005, the XX has gone from West London high-schoolers to underground sensation on both sides of the pond. And while the majority of the 2009 British invasion has tended towards danceable electropop (Little Boots, La Roux, et al), the XX refocus their pop and R&B influences inward, crafting soulful indie rock that is dark and sexual.

The riptide of hype has already swallowed one member, as guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi recently quit the band after an exhausting slate of CMJ showcases. The XX soldier on a three-piece, as her departure has caused the band to improvise and adapt arrangements, without much margin of error.

Opening the night was Jon Hopkins, an electronic music producer whose songs are glitchy and atmospheric, sounding at times like outtakes from a Clint Mansell score, and at others, instrumentals begging for a female vocalist, a la Zero 7 and Frou Frou. The pulsating drums and sweeping synths rang the gamut from dubstep to drum-n-bass, firmly on the “electronic” side of an electronic/dance music Venn diagram. Unfortunately, watching Hopkins manipulate his gear is not particularly captivating. The crests never broke and he seemed to out stay his welcome. However, it was the perfect music for an opener, leaving enough ambience and mystique in the air for the main attraction.

To rousing applause, the XX took the stage. The band’s youth (they’re all 20!) was on display throughout the night, but not in an unpleasant way. The set list stayed relatively close to the record, with a few covers mixed in: their masterful reworkings of the funky club track “Do you mind?” and the Womack & Womack hit “Teardrops,” a song recorded before the band members were born. Oliver Sim (bass and vocals) seemed genuinely excited by the band’s first trip to Washington; his reference of Ben’s Chili Bowl was earnest and unrehearsed. And while they missed their marks or played the wrong notes a few times, it reminded the audience what they are witnessing: gifted songwriters whose talents belie their age and experience.

In front of a display emblazoned with their stark logo, the goth-attired trio worked through twelve of the fifteen songs they have committed to record (their cover of Florence and the Machines “You’ve Got the Love” was sorely missed). The interplay and counterpoint of Sim’s smoky vocals with the breathy ones of guitarist Romy Madley Croft are just as sorrowful and emotive as on record. Jamie Smith, manning a drum machine, samplers, and the occasional live percussion seems to have picked up the slack after Qureshi’s exit, especially when dropping the otherworldly bass sounds of songs like “Fantasy.”

If not immediately engaged, the sold-out crowd was won over by the time Croft plucked the opening riff of the surprisingly danceable single “Crystalised,” and remained enraptured until the call-and-response crescendo that ended the set on “Stars,” a song that finds the band at its most Chris Isaac-like sound. Here’s hoping the band can survive the further strain that is all but assured as more people hear the record. This is the rare next-big-thing that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, parlaying a high Pitchfork score into no more than hipster namedroppings. If they can survive this rough patch intact, I’ll be front and center when they play the 9:30 Club in April, a venue where their tour bus, buzz, and crowd will all be in sync with their talent.