The producer's collaboration with the Wu-Tang rapper shows he's in no need of a confidence boost.
After doing the rounds for a few years, James Blake’s Harmonimix of grime MC Trim’s Confidence Boost finally, and deservedly, saw release on R&S late last year. Taking the relatively barebones original somewhere entirely new, it was most essential for just how much came crammed into it. Thumping with cavernous menace early on, with Trim’s self-assuring, life-coach lyrics given a complex duality with a manipulated high-pitched vox running slyly on top, later piano patterns threatened to tie down its emotionally ambiguous amorphousness. While outside of his Harmonimix remixes, the success of Take A Fall For Me – featuring Wu-Tang legend RZA – builds on the template of Confidence Boost (Harmonimix), and in the final throes of pre-‘Overgrown’ release hype signals an assured turn-of-the-hand to full collaboration with an MC.
Trimbal – Confidence Boost
Alongside the deer, there’s no denying it was an eyebrow-raiser when the tracklist first revealed RZA’s presence on ‘Overgrown’. More than that, the album’s press release sharing that the rapper would be turning anglophile with lines about “old stout” and “fish and chips” were enough to tempt you into a groan. But while these references are present and playfully delivered (those fish and chips make for a candlelit dinner – a staple romantic scenario in the UK, of course), they form part of a sombre tale of a conflicted transatlantic love affair – one worth swimming “the English Channel to the Italian Peninsula” for. And in RZA’s hands, rather than giving voice to to the inner cynic, these archaic anglo-referrers, in my mind at least, place the action on some romanticised fog-covered street corner of Victorian London.
As with the shape-shifting Confidence Boost, Blake’s production again displays real subtlety in scribbling in light and dark tones around the vocal centrepiece. While not as out there or adventurous as Blake’s Harmonimix-esque dismantling of Big Boi’s Every Day I Ran – the bonus cut on ‘Overgrown’ and also uploaded on Tumblr this week – Take A Fall For Me is far from conventional or copycat hip hop. In familiarly blubbering but pathos-evoking tones, his repeated plea of “you can’t marry her yet” weaves hypnotically throughout. While you sense some respectfulness to RZA in Take A Fall For Me’s stripped-back feel, though, what Blake sprinkles in feels key to his characterful production strokes. As with Confidence Boost, pitch-shifted voice doubles-up to sly effect, a sample of yearning female voice, perhaps a snippet of Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, repeatedly drops in mid-cry – and understated keyboard licks swerve us back into the verses unexpectedly. Like those infamous dogs on Falls Creek Boys Choir, James Blake has proven himself unafraid to think outside the box with his production; to approach with such freedom in your first proper venture into hip hop, not least one featuring a member of Wu-Tang Clan, doesn’t suggest an artist short on any confidence.
James Blake – Take A Fall For Me (feat. RZA)
With the first spark of an idea coming when Blake was in the midst of some heavy Wu-Tang listening, Take A Fall For Me feels like it had the potential to be a stumbling moment – presenting the possibility of falling down a rabbit hole in collaboration with an idol. Take A Fall For Me furthers that air of sudden self-assurance that Retrograde signalled a few months back, and while not necessarily the finest or most beautiful moment on ‘Overgrown’, it is easily one of its most impressive. While it’s too early to tell where James Blake wants to take things next, with the news that he’s in the tentative stages of a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar for 1-800 Dinosaur, time may determine Take A Fall For Me as a key moment in the 24 year-old’s career.