The Hang Of Music: The Closest Thing I Have To A Voice Of Reason…

“Getting back on track and trying to stay on time is hard. However, I have a solution: actually write this review before Thursday evening.”

I wrote that on Wednesday.

Honestly, I’ve been splitting my time this week between listening to this album, drinking, being bored to tears by religious bullshit, and then listening to Scroobius Pip’s new LP. And apparently he hates people like me, who review things on the internet, so I can’t tell you that it’s a great album and a lot of fun (if very dark). Bummer.

All hope is not lost, though because instead of reviewing an interesting young rapper from the UK, I am reviewing the newest, and last, work of the wonderful, erudite and intense US rapper-poet, Gil Scott-Heron. Here he collaborates with Jamie XX, of The xx, on the 2010 album “I’m New Here”. Let’s get into it.


Actually, let’s not. Let’s go into a bit of background. Last year, around [month] time, I heard one of the saddest bits of news. Gil Scott-Heron had died. I think, actually, that what with Scott-Heron and with the death of Christopher Hitchens, that 2011 was the year I found that the deaths of people whom I’d never met, and whom I knew less than I wished about, could make me sad.

I really liked Gil Scott-Heron when he was alive. He was a number of things – erudite was one of them. Politically angry was another, though it helped that he was riding in the wake of one of the biggest political upheavals of all time. And most of all he was influential, mainly because it was probably because of him that rap became. Not “became what it is”, but even just “became” at all! His style of beat poetry and funny lyrics, often combined with passing off the musical aspect onto someone else who was more interested in such, was as important to the genre as it was effective and… well, good.

Sadly, then, I have to tell you that all I’ve said has no bearing on this review. Because what I’ve said so far is nothing but positive. But this newest album, a collaboration with Jamie of The XX, I just do not get.

Im seriously con fus.

To start at the beginning, though: “I’m New Here”, the almost eponymous song brings us in as track one. I get the feeling that this was meant to be the lead single, but it doesn’t quite have the punch. At least on the album – the single video is, as mentioned earlier, an entirely different arrangement. More acoustic, and with a more instant appeal. I dunno what they were planning, making the single so wildly separate from the album version.

Despite that, though, the song gives us what I think could end up being a motto for the man himself. The song is about the self, and about self-identification, and midway through he brings this cracker to the table.

“It may be crazy, but I am the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.”

I know how you feel, man; I know how you feel…

And speaking of lyrics, has anyone here seen the new Avengers movie? Raise your hands. If you  haven’t, go out and do so immediately. Well, the lyrics on “Running” actually kind of remind me of one of Nick Fury’s lines: “You have made me very nervous. You may not like that you did.”

Compare that to: “because you’re going to see me run soon; and because you’re going to know why I’m running then. You’ll know then, because I’m not going to tell you now.” Ominous, and oddly threatening. Just like Nick Fury.*

Though I don’t much like the song, I have to admit that “My Cloud” is actually the song that sounds most like the man himself. Not the music, obviously. But were you to sample the lyrics, they could’ve appeared on any of his previous albums. Which just serves to show exactly how much his voice has changed, along with his capacity to “sing” sing (rather than “talk” sing).

On most of the tracks, and for obvious reasons, the lyrics are good. They explore interesting things, and though they don’t do the same sorts of things as in his previous albums, they explore. “I’m New Here” seems to be about the importance of self, and comparing its fluidity to its stability. “Running” is about keeping up with everyone else, fitting in, not the destination but the journey.

On the other hand, the word I would use to describe the music is OK. Only OK. Some of the songs, such as “NY is Killing Me” are pretty good, but the music is pretty much what I think is either the slower bits of pop, or the duller bits of dubstep. “NY” is an example of the latter –  it has some nice parts, and I like the fact that it’s actually developed from a jazz piano piece written by Scott-Heron. Maybe that’s why I like it.

How I think it happened…

The music just stops and starts too much, and is too too abrupt. I suspect that the problem might be giving Jamie XX too much free reign. It’s not like GSH lyrics root the song down in any way; so the tune and lyrics often have no point of connection.

You may wonder why I’m talking about the music and the lyrics separately. “But Hatfulofnapalm, don’t you always talk about how songs work as a whole?” “Why, yes, sock-puppeting reader – that’s so true, it’s almost like you’re fictional.” Yes, I do think that the two should be considered together. I’m not doing so because this would be impossible and awkward with this album, because to all intents and purposes the two are entirely separate entities, hammered together willy nilly. To review them both in tandem would make no sense.

This is bad. Very much so. Because what it means is that the album doesn’t work. Not really. It’s a mish-mash. Each song is a mish-mash of two different songs, in exactly as much as the album itself is a mish-mash of two different genres and artists. And while on any collaboration, you should be able to hear the input of the different artists themselves – otherwise what’s the point, where’s the fun? – that doesn’t mean that each track should clash with itself. That way madness lies.

This is not to say this album is terrible, mind. On the songs where they actually work on melding the music and the lyrics (only “NY is Killing Me” springs to mind: sorry!), they come together quite well. This is what I want from your collaborations, guys! In almost every other case, the two are too disparate, too unconnected to be enjoyable. So there!

Badmouthing Heron? On his memorial review? My immortal soul will just have to take the hit. [Just like it did when I set fire to it that one time…]

* For your viewing pleasure – Samuel L. Jackson imitating Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“. Blatant theft.


Reading the list of people who gave their condolences towards his death is impressive to say the least. It’s an awe inspiring list. Lupe Fiasco wrote a poem for him, Kanye West performed the song that he and Heron had written together at his funeral… Even Eminem said nice things about him!


Posted on May 21, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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