I don’t know much about Hip Hop, but I hear about how it’s dead or dying. “Turn on the radio,” you say. But I say that, on a spiritual level, this version has nothing in common with its roots. It used to be a medium for the marginalized, for metaphors and poetry, for politics. It inspired “fear of a black planet.” But history’s shown the white’s more violent, subtle: silence the obscene, kill the black art and recruit what’s left of it for fat cat or frat propaganda.
Gil-Scott Heron says, “I’m New Here.” They’re ironic words once you know that he’s like the godfather of rapping. He’s been at it since 1969, and the world was a much different place then. He could still be a voice then. There was something to change, and the hope that it could. But I’m not sure that’s something the world can give him anymore. Nothing’s changing, there’s only stories.
So on this new record—his first in over ten years and the only significant one in the last thirty—he’s talking about himself. Under the conscience of the last ten years, in and out of prison on drug charges. Under the loneliness of a man disjointed from the social strata, even his most loved (“Your Soul and Mine”). Under some history that he calls a “broken home” (“On Coming From…”). And, despite all of the obvious trouble he sees in himself, both the choices and the inextricable: “it may be crazy, but I’m the closest thing I’ve got to a voice of reason,” he says. “I did not become someone different, that I did not want to be. But I’m new here. Will you show me around?”
He’s like a lost spirit, some torrential elder or prophet we’d forgotten about. Or maybe an angel of lament and death. And he’s trying to resurrect something soulful. All of his words seem vital. For instance, “It’s easier to run. Because running will be the way your life and mine will be described. As in, the long run. Or, as in having somebody a run for his money. Or, as in running out of time,” which we are. Like I said, he’s purely a prophet.
You’ll find an earlier, purebred “rap” here. He uses spoken word, and has a more obvious bluesy bond. This just means that he still knows the nub—a newer expression of an old genre. But he’s not ancient either. This is a pretty bass-heavy recording, and it sounds as tragic as his successors.
The successors are probably what most of us know. But there was a time when the genre had more life. Actually, it was life-giving. And Heron’s here to restore some of that sense, even if it’s just telling you where he’s been. His is the story of the rest.