REVIEW: Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here

by Marcus K. Dowling

Let it be said here that the best albums have the richest back stories. Tracking down the Rikers Island imprisoned, possibly HIV-infected poet laureate of African-American revolutionary politics to record an album isn’t exactly a stroke of genius. But for XL Recordings boss Richard Russell to think that mainstream culture once again needed a dose of deep and intensely thoughtful ramblings from the man that told us all that the “revolution will not be televised,” is an appreciated concept. On the recently released I’m New Here, Gil Scott-Heron, a 61 year old Chicago native, speaks the realest words we’ve heard in quite some time, an incredibly honest portrayal of the urban condition that deserves respect and an honest listen by the world.

Lead single “New York is Killing Me” is all handclaps and Chicago blues, with Heron still espousing street corner wisdom, now sounding like they’re out of the mouth of a grizzled block veteran than a hip young hoodlum. Intro and Outro “On Coming From A Broken Home,” set to Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” instrumental, not only gives the bookends of the album an anticipatory and orchestral feel, there’s also a certain emptiness and life in the face of hopelessness emoted by them as well.

They set theĀ  reflective and incisive mindset of Heron perfectly, as this man has revolted, he has evolved he has been torn asunder in the midst of all of that, and now is looking back, soul empty, to the exact square one where his life’s ultimate altering took place for all the answers. “Running,” with its huge breakbeats shows Gil Scott sounding just like his rap generation paramour Nas. From beginning to end, this album hits with the emotional gravitas and power of a buckshot blast to the cerebral cortex.

Using modern sounds like hip hop, dubstep and shoegaze indie rock alongside the expected soul and gospel to flesh out Heron’s experience really make this album stand out and speak to all generations. The pain and redemption of a man is at stake here, as he’s “new here” in so many different ways. He’s new to the 21st century of recorded sound. He’s new to being able to access these emotions as well, and, in having Heron on this emotional plane, as most revolutions for Heron seem these days, it is a revolution of the evolved self against the nature of one’s existence. This revolution won’t be televised either, and it most certainly is live.

Provided here is a streaming link of the album, courtesy of the Village Voice. It is my opinion that it is the finest album released so far in 2010. I leave this debate to your ears.