I’m New Here (XL)
It’s surprising that this album exists at all, let alone that it’s easily one of the best of Gil Scott-Heron’s career. The legendary spoken word artist and grandfather of political hip-hop hasn’t released an album for 16 years, having spent much of that time in and out of jail and rehab. Most of us had given up on hearing new music from him again, but thankfully XL Recordings owner Richard Russell decided to take a chance and tracked him down in prison.
Russell also produced the entire album, and the results are a major departure from the jazz funk grooves once associated with Scott-Heron. The best description I can offer is futuristic blues, combining minimalist gritty electronics with acoustic instruments and Scott-Heron’s soulful, gravelly voice.
If his early work was a love letter to New York City, this is more a resigned breakup with a destructive lover. Gone are the angry political rants, replaced by earnest emotional self-reflection. This brutally honest record is in many ways more powerful than anything from his agitprop days.
Top track: New York Is Killing Me