Review : GIL SCOTT-HERON - I'm New Here
CokemachineglowThe idea of Gil Scott-Heron as some “godfather of rap” or revolutionary street poet and singer is, in 2010, perhaps never so strongly understood as the simple fact that he’s the guy who told you that the revolution will not be televised or a sample credit in Common’s liner notes. Especially as time went on, a certain type of Scott-Heron song—the disco-influenced PSA, heavy handed stabs at relevance forecasting some of the preachier aspects of the backpacker crowd—made a large scale revival of his iconism not seem very appealing.
But as for how Scott-Heron sees himself in 2010: he’s new here. It’s been over a decade and a half since his last album, nearly three since he was consistently doing much of anything. And of this he is painfully aware; probably the single best thing about I’m New Here is how Scott-Heron doesn’t argue at all for his legacy as anything worth dwelling upon or dissecting. “I had an ego on me the size of Texas / But I’m new here, and I forget / Does that mean big or small?”: the line withdraws slowly from Kanye-brand meta-egoism towards something more soulful and inconclusive, settling into a tiredly conversational mystique. It’s all free-floating ambivalence, the recognition of the emptiness of self- and popular regard and then replacing that with an outwardly searching, curious attitude rooted in the accrued perspective of age.
As much as this sort of rumination works over spare guitar lines, Scott-Heron doesn’t spend much time with any instrumental idea; each song of the twenty-eight minute album is like a brief snapshot of what could’ve been a themed record in and of itself, as if Scott-Heron’s attempting to cover a lot of ground, re-introducing himself to the listener in oneiric notions instead of with a hardlined retrospective of the last twenty years. Scattered throughout are soundbites of wisdom in nearly contextless skits, fuzzy and tossed-off enough to come off as excerpts from an interview or overheard conversation; some are even manipulated electronically, but with a subtle touch that mirrors the kōans he drops....full text
BostonThe first album in 16 years from troubled genius Gil Scott-Heron is dark and eerie, full of mysterious electronic effects, clanging percussions, and ominous chords. On the surface, it’s nothing like Scott-Heron’s classic work from the 1970s and ’80s, which cloaked searing messages of social liberation in some of the funkiest soul-jazz ever made, with musical partner Brian Jackson and a tight acoustic band. “I’m New Here’’ is a different beast. The idea of indie maven Richard Russell of XL Recordings, who suggested it while visiting Scott-Heron during a recent incarceration, the album is very much a producer’s piece, all layers, overdubs, and effects. Yet the swirling miasma of sound wholly suits Scott-Heron’s mood, which is angry yet humble, and even more his voice, which is rich and intent as ever. The disc is succinct, just 30 minutes, with ruminative spoken interludes framing the title track (an unlikely cover of lo-fi rocker Smog), a wrenching version of Bobby Bland’s “I’ll Take Care of You,’’ and a jagged, tweaky take on “Me and the Devil’’ that rings like a masterclass in Afro-futuristic blues. (Out tomorrow) SIDDHARTHA MITTER...full text
SlantmagazinOften cited as the godfather of rap, Gil Scott-Heron is one of those artists who's more referenced than listened to, a barely commercial poet who created difficult music, uncompromising political numbers that hedged the border between song and spoken word. Mostly silent for the last 25 years, spending a portion of the last decade in jail, I'm New Here is his comeback. That it's not a facile cash-in effort, padded with guest stars and easy melodies, speaks for the gritty insistence of the man, who once served as the nagging pebble in soul's conscious but cocky stride.
Kanye West lifted the entire chorus from Heron's "Home Is Where the Hate is" for "On My Way Home" from 2005's Late Registration. Heron seemingly responds on the opening track here, speaking over "Little Child Running Wild," the same Curtis Mayfield sample West used on "Flashing Lights." Heron's treatment of hip-hop is one of ornery, begrudging fatherhood, his voice still stridently political even as he enters his 60s. It's fascinating to see this kind of resistance to going soft, and though he has done guest work for rappers in the past (most notably for the Roots's Blackalicious), none appear here.
This is one of the things that makes I'm New Here such a masterfully stark album. The music is darker, more mechanical than the jazz-inflected backing he used in the '70s, he exhibits few of the tendencies of the genres he helped influence. Forceful, workable, but often sluggish, his beats are not the center of attention. He only sometimes sings, but he doesn't rap either, delivering his words in a measured tone that recalls none of the exaggerated, hysterical bombast of slam poetry, another form which bears his fingerprints.
A kind of post-structural, indefinably plotted work, I'm New Here is marked by non-adherence to traditional song structures and a short, 28-minute running time. But it never feels slight. Its songs are jagged and often awkwardly sketched out, disparate in length and style, but the challenge they pose feels right. In many ways, the album is a formless blob. But Heron's backhanded embrace of hip-hop structures, utilizing repetition and samples to create a mostly unrecognizable tableau, is exhilarating. The handclap beat on "New York Is Killing Me," accompanied by a half-singing Heron and the occasional loose sound effect, grows suddenly into a gospel-backed explosion. The haunting "Running" is another highlight, borrowing a Burial-style dubstep beat for an almost eerie tone poem....full text
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