What’s Old is New
He’s not new at all. He’s back where he belongs. After a 16-year absence from recording, Gil Scott-Heron returns with I’m New Here, an album that blends poetry, hip-hop, and blues with satisfying results.
As the album’s title suggests, I’m New Here is a reintroduction for Scott-Heron. For many fans, this album will be a first impression, and like anyone making a first impression, Scott-Heron has to find a balance between fitting in and standing out. I’m New Here succeeds in doing both.
The opening track “On Coming from a Broken Home (Part 1)” features Scott-Heron’s spoken word prowess over a sample from Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights,” a nod to Scott-Heron’s legacy as one of the godfathers of conscious, political rap and the many changes in music since his last album. I’m New Here finds Scott-Heron no longer out in front of musical trends, but instead floating anachronistically somewhere in between them.
Other tracks on the album mix his soulful spoken word vocals with jazz-influenced beats, while the title track is straight up blues. Throughout the album, Scott-Heron showcases the power of his marvelous voice and shares many personal insights. “The Crutch” presents a haunting discussion of the drugs that derailed Scott-Heron’s career with some of the album’s most ambitious production. “On Coming From A Broken Home (Part 2)” showcases Scott-Heron’s bluntness and honesty over the same Kanye West sample as the introduction.
The production does a nice job of taking the backseat to Scott-Heron’s vocals, providing support and helping establish the album’s moods: most often reflective, sometimes melancholy, and on “New York Is Killing Me” just as mercurial as the city itself.
Overall, I’m New Here is a solid album that leaves the listener wanting more. Unfortunately, that’s partly because it comes in at just under a half hour, but the strength of Scott-Heron’s vocals and the interesting ways they are juxtaposed with the music make the album engaging and rewarding. It’s an album of plain-spoken truth, a rare thing in hip-hop and one worth taking note of.