Derailed: Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

Every so often I will be posting under the ‘Derailed’ heading. This is for posts that are outside my normal comfort area…indie rock/pop.

It’s funny that a man who has been called the Godfather of Rap would start his first album in 16 years with a sample from Kanye West‘s Flashing Lights.  More funny because Kanye sampled him not that long ago.

Godfather of Rap, Black Bob Dylan..whatever they might call him, I have to admit I had never heard of Gil Scott-Heron until his latest release, I’m New Here, showed up in Pitchfork‘s Best New Music section.  I doubt I’m alone here, so let’s talk about the man a little.

Gil Scott-Heron is 60 years old and has been putting out material for 40 years.  From what I have read, a lot of his work is soul, spoken word, jazz fusion, etc…and a lot of it revolves around black activism and African American life in general.  His most popular work came out in the late-70s.

His return to the studio comes after serving some time for drug possession and various parole-related violations.  But now that he’s free, he’s ready to start his storytelling again. I realize most of the praise this album is getting is based on the man himself, but even without knowing his history, it’s a powerful piece.  Only 28 minutes long it packs in a lot of material.  Spoken word pieces about losing his mother (over Kanye West‘s sample), blues numbers that call to mind a black Tom Waits more than Dylan, interludes mixed with humour as much as heartbreak, an ode to New York and the title track, a cover of Bill Callahan’s (aka Smog) I’m New Here.

This album makes me want to dig into Gil’s back catalog, but it’s also a piece I can appreciate all on it’s own.