How far down the rabbit hole have we gone if artists like Florence + The Machine are covering a song by Drake? A song that is adapted from a dance remix of a cover of a blues standard by Gil Scott-Heron? How about if the song has now spawned a new version where Gil Scott-Heron is reintroduced into a song that Drake covered without much other change? This is where the story of Drake's single "Take Care" ends for now. The song was officially released as his fourth single off his second studio album Take Care last Tuesday and is starting to make headway in the charts. The story starts fifty-two years ago. Brook Benton is a rising star in the music industry. He's a singer/songwriter who began working for Mercury Records. He just released his most successful singles to date, "It's Just a Matter of Time" and "Endlessly." He writes a new song around 1960 called "I'll Take Care of You" that just tugs at the heartstrings.
It's a declaration of love and protection over a small blues ensemble. A piano, drum kit, electric organ, some strings, and a guitar fight against a very smooth vocal. The organ is the singer's inner monologue confirming his desire to do everything right in a relationship. Any doubt disappears when the organ kicks in. Bobby Bland, a touring blues musician on the brink of success, records the original version of the song. It only reaches #89 on the Billboard charts, but it makes enough of an impact to be covered again and again. You can listen to the original version of the track here.
Flash forward to 2010. Gil Scott-Heron releases his final album I'm New Here featuring a cover of "I'll Take Care of You." He really gets into the blues feel of the song. The backing band--synth strings, real strings, drum kit, piano--keeps the rhythm while Scott-Heron feels his way through the meaning of the song. His understanding of the style of the piece is remarkable. He gets a lot of emotion out of a grumbling bass vocal that seemingly doesn't care where the band is. Gil Scott-Heron is so caught up in the song that nothing will stop him from getting his message across at his pace.
In 2011, Jamie xx releases a remix album of Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here called We're New Here. Jamie xx modernizes the blues standard without minimizing the strength and impact of Scott-Heron's recording. He sets the meandering vocal in time with the more upbeat dance backing while paying tribute to the more dynamic organ style of the Bobby Bland original.
Perhaps most intriguing about this track, now called "I'll Take Care of U," is the almost-Latin breakdown at the bridge. Jamie xx takes the chorus of "I'll Take Care of U" and breaks it apart into a salsa beat. The result is a crazy moment that sounds like it was ripped out of a Pitbull track rather than based in a blues song. It takes a special kind of DJ/producer to reinvent a song this much and make it work.
It just so happens that Jamie xx and Drake are friends. Drake decided he wanted to include a cover of "I'll Take Care of U" on his second studio album. Reworked with new verses, the song is now called "Take Care." Drake and Rihanna take turns rerecording Gil Scott-Heron's vocals as reworked by Jamie xx. The result is a fifty-two year old song taking on a brand new meaning. It's no longer one person's unrequited declaration of unyielding affection. Now it's a song of commitment in a relationship. Both members are present and they're both on the same page. It's a lovely and unexpected twist on what became a Blues classic.
And that's how you go from a poor-performing blues track from 1960 to a hip-hop track with enough resonance that artists are willing to cover it on live TV appearances.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.