JAY-Z’S SOUL MAKEOVER


Jay’s Soul Connection: Frank’s Party Life
From Amsterdam Gangster (MPM, 2009)

Jay-Z: 99 Problems (Prince of Ballard Remix)
From armedsnobbery.blogspot.com (Sep. 2007)

(Originally written for Side Dishes)

I like Jay-Z as much as the next dude but even I was surprised that Netherlands’ producer Umatic took it upon himself to remix the six songs off the American Gangster album (now over a year old) with tracks by the Lefties Soul Connection, a deep funk/retro soul band (also Dutch). The result: Amsterdam Gangster by Jay’s Soul Connection. I gotta say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of American Gangster originally; a lot of the songs felt underinspired but the beauty of these remix projects is that they sometimes encourage you to listen to the songs with new ears. Case in point – I didn’t pay “Party Life” too much attention the first time around – it was a cool enough tune but just didn’t leave a major impression. Yet, I found myself appreciating the word play better with this flip – something about the change in production put the lyrics in a new light.

There’s also something serendipitous about the idea of mashing these groups together. After all, Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” was built around a retro-soul song, the Menahan Street Band’s “Make the Road by Walking,” while “Success” (another song that Umatic remixes for the Amsterdam Gangster project) is pretty much built straight from Larry Ellis and the Black Hammer’s obscure funk 45, “Funky Thing“. Coming from the other side, one of the Lefties Soul Connection’s first songs that came to my attention was their remake of DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor.”

Given the mesh between funky band tracks and Jay-Z acapellas, I also thought about another mash-up project – a blog-only remix of “99 Problems” done by The Prince of Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood) back in 9/07. He took a loop from a Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings studio performance and threw Jay-Z’s verses on top and it totally works. Interestingly enough, that same loop got worked over by Mark Ronson for Solange Knowles’ song, “6 O’Clock Blues.”

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