It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the most famous remixes is Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., or the Mona Lisa with a short beard and moustache. Especially when concerned with classics, it’s so hard to make established successful works of art good in something other than their original form. Usually, it’s better to draw the proverbial moustache and revel in the Dadaist absurdity of your final product. Amerigo Gazaway, however, takes the artistic high road on his Soul Mates releases, pairing musical legends together in such a way that sprawling discographies are succinctly encapsulated and repurposed as songs that, despite the knowledge of the originals always lingering, easily stand on their own as equals. On his latest venture, B.B. King and hip-hop greats UGK are joined as Gazaway traverses their expansive discographies to provide the most fun mash-up in the series yet.
One of the hallmarks of a great mash-up album is that you learn more about the artists than just how their music plays with one another. As cited on his Bandcamp page, he enlisted the help of a UGK historian to add previously unreleased interview audio into the songs. This adds a level of depth indicative of a successful mash-up: did you not only create a new sound from two established artists, while simultaneously retaining and delving deeper into their iconic, legendary voices? Similarly, when such a philosophy is applied to the songs, they work masterfully.
The catalogs of B.B. King and UGK are cavernous with classics, and with The Trill Is Gone, you’d think the artists intentionally titled songs the way they did just so they’d sound perfect when married together. For example, the album’s first proper song, “The Trill Is Gone”, finds UGK’s cautionary tale “One Day” on equal footing with the legendary B.B. track “The Thrill Is Gone”. Never mind that “thrill” and “trill” are one letter away, with a pitched-down “Ask me what the fuck the trill stand for?” weaving throughout the track to punctuate each hook with street wisdom after a lesson in the blues at their finest. Possibly UGK’s finest track, the indisputably perfect commitment (of varying forms) anthem “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” featuring one of the greatest performances Outkast has ever recorded, full stop, gets a guitar-induced facelift that re-envisions the original soul production with surprisingly effective results courtesy of B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s “Marry You”. The deeper cuts of both, however, merit equal attention.
UGK’s “Fuck My Car”, for example, gets hilariously reupholstered with “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, providing the cleaner sentiment, while car horns and actual horns dot the sonic landscape. Cam’ron’s UGK, Ludacris, and Juelz Santana-featuring “What Means the World to You (Remix)” takes an already jumping beat and gives it a beautifully fast-paced big band treatment. In addition to group tracks, Gazaway takes solo tracks from Bun B and Pimp C and give them their dues. One of the strongest examples of this, “That’s Gangsta Life”, takes Bun’s “That’s Gangsta” with B.B. King’s feature performance on The Crusaders’ “Street Life” from the collaborative live album Royal Jam. The grimy synths of “That’s Gangsta” get dressed in a suit and tie by the somber classicism of B.B.’s performance, while still retaining the grit of his vocals.
It’s hard to find fault with Gazaway’s Soul Mates catalog, but The Trill Is Back is the release that stands tall in a crowd of giants. He has a unique gift for finding the voices of seemingly distant artists and making music that suggests they were meant for each other all along. Working with legends in both B.B. King and UGK, the upside of this album was immense. Thankfully, on The Trill Is Gone, he surpasses “best mash-up album of the year/decade” talk, and enters in the conversation for one of the year’s best, no qualifiers needed.