“I did not become someone different / that I did not want to be,” Gil Scott-Heron gruffly admits on the title track to his first album in thirteen years, “But I’m new here…will you show me around?” It’s a frightening prospect given Gil’s challenges with drugs and the law in the past decade, and hopefully the “new” is means “new leaf,” a desire that is magnified by the quality of this long awaited release.
I’m New Here presents autobiographical, spoken word interludes against fully developed songs (which Gil’s voice handles with more character than inherent talent), and word jazz. The skeletal arrangements and minimalist electronica is a perfect backdrop for his prose and the subject matter is compelling enough for repeated listens. In short, I’m New Here is a perfect introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the grandfather of political rap and one of word jazz’s most notable artists.
It also serves as an excellent starting point in discovering Gil’s past catalogue.
Kudos to XL Recordings head honcho Richard Russell for seeking Gil out while he was still serving at Rikers Island Prison Facility to discuss how the artist would celebrate his freedom after serving his sentence. It was clearly a labor of love—in much the same way that Rick Rubin has been noted for his work with Johnny Cash and other heritage artists—and one where Russell worked hard in matching Scott-Heron’s strengths with the most complimentary arrangements.
“If you gotta pay for things that you’ve done wrong, then I got a big bill comin’ at the end of the day,” Gil laughs during one of the audio documents that dot the album. He hasn’t run away from his past and it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to compromise either. I’m New Here represents a healthy stop in the man’s life as he contemplates the road that brought him here. It’s a lucid rumination, but there’s one thing missing that’s often present in “comeback” efforts like this: a statement of recovery and a commitment to sobriety. But whatever he’ll face tomorrow and regardless of where he’ll end up, but I’m New Here assures us that his place as one of the architects of the most important genres of the past quarter-century is firmly secured and continuing to grow.