Godfather of Hip-Hop Journalism – The Hilltop

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Photo courtesy of Nisha Sondhe.

“I was a student at Long Island University and I bought the Village Voice every week, and one morning, I believe it was 1982, I bought the Village Voice, and I came across this excellent Tate’s review of… George Clinton’s new album at the Computer Games era. So it’s 1982. I just remember reading the story, and I’ve never read anything like it before. He wrote in this language which was super cool, super hip, but it was also very dark and very smart and very smart. Even though the word wasn’t popular at the time, it had that kind of booty that no other writer was making back then. Greg was kind of like the pioneer of the new black journalism. -Michael Gonzales, friend of Greg Tate

Greg Tate, writer, critic, musician, educator, former Hilltop writer and Howard University alumnus – whose work is considered by many to be the paradigm of cultural journalism – died on December 7.

For many writers, including music journalist Marcus J. Moore, Tate’s reviews published in The Village Voice from 1987 to 2005 set a precedent for the quality and authenticity of contemporary music journalism and cultural criticism. His work emerged around the same time as hip-hop itself, and at a time when the beauty of art and music was not a topic of in-depth discussion in many publications.

“He connected points that no one else was considering, then expressed those thoughts with a clarity and dexterity that no one has been able to duplicate,” Moore said in an article for Pitchfork. Tates’ ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated pieces and artistic genres was one of his defining characteristics in the eyes of many readers.

A longtime friend and Tate fan Michael Gonzales was able to recall the first time he read one of Tate’s plays in The Village Voice.

“I don’t even know how to describe it. Being a young black writer, it just struck me. That sense of pride you get when you say to yourself, “Oh, a black person did that!” It was like being struck by lightning or something and I just wanted more, ”Gonzales said.

While at The Villiage Voice, Tate produced the articles Bad Brains: Hardcore of Darkness (1982), Jean-Michel Basquiat, Buttermilk Flyboy (1989) and Black like who? Love and the enemy (1991).

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Rhea Combs, a Howard alumnus and current director of curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, described the pivotal role Tate’s education played in turning him into a staunch “polymath” who would become his close friend. 20 years old.

“So he also had that kind of middle-class southern anchorage. It understood the rituals, the… cultural mores of southern black life and at the same time it had the spice and blend of the Dayton, Ohio, Midwest, Midwest work ethic, ”Combs said.

Tate’s parents, Florence and Charles Tate, were both civil rights activists who led various local, national and global initiatives calling for the liberation of blacks. They lived in Dayton, Ohio, for the start of Tate’s life. As the first black woman to run for the Dayton Daily News, Florence Tate’s connection to Pan-African activism would lead her to use her journalistic skills to educate the masses on the issues she wanted to change, an attribute that would have a huge impact on her son and his work.

“He was someone who was influenced by his parents and their dedication to the community, who were revolutionaries and who were activists, but at the same time he was in this bond and mix of a civil rights baby. coupled with a mother who grew up like a Southern Belle, ”according to Combs.

In the 1970s, Tate’s family moved from Dayton, Ohio to Washington, DC. It was during the crucial years of his teenage years that Tate would develop an appreciation for the art and culture that he carried with him throughout his enrollment at Howard University, where he studied journalism and writing. movie theater.

“In my mind, I always thought like a music journalist, a music critic, because of that inspiration. But I didn’t really start writing music journalism until I got to Howard. I wrote for the Howard Hilltop. The two pieces I remember the most are those interviews I did with Betty Carter and Dexter Gordon, ”Tate said. CapitalBop in 2015.

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“He was so proud to be a Howard student, it was a trainer for him,” Combs said.

So formative, in fact, that he would meet the other half of the dynamic duo that is Arthur “AJ” Jafa and Greg Tate in what was then the Founder’s Library’s African-American Resource Center. Jafa, now an artist, filmmaker and cinematographer, was an architecture student at Howard when he first met Tate.

They were first introduced to each other by E. Ethelbert Miller, who was at the time director of the African-American Resource Center at the Founder’s Library. Then, before the start of this summer, Jafa, handing over a stack of books, met Tate in the library as they discussed their plans for the break. At this point, Tate, who had previously introduced himself to WPFW radio station as Greg “Iron Man” Tate (a nod to Eric Dolphy’s 1968 album, not the Marvel hero) , informed Jafa of his intention to “check out” New York.

“And I had this book, Euripides, one of his plays, and I remember he said, ‘Euripides is nothing but rock and roll,'” Jafa said. That day, the two spoke from 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., beginning their long-standing friendship.

Jafa, having met Tate in college when he was just beginning his writing journey, observed Tate’s rise to the figure he is today. He is able to recall how quickly the demand for Tate’s work grew and how much waiting for Tate’s next Village Voice article was “like waiting for a record to be released.”

“It’s kind of like you’re in the middle of a Renaissance, but you’re running with Michelangelo or DaVinci,” Jafa said, explaining what it was like to witness Tate’s rise in the middle. the rise of staple cultural products like hip-hop and street art.

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By the time he graduated from Howard, Tate had already established himself as an extraordinary mind with revolutionary ideas, and by the early 1980s he moved to New York City. He wanted to cut the strings of how black people were “supposed” to produce and perceive art, and remove the barrier preventing equality and acceptance, especially when it came to black alternative music. So in 1985 he became a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, guitarist Vernon Reid, and video and film producer Konda Mason formed the Black Rock Coalition, or BRC.

According to Ganzales, the organization has filled a cultural void that has often been overlooked. The genres were kept away from the very people who had helped establish them, as black artists struggled to thrive behind monoliths and stereotypes. “[The BRC] was just this really cool black collective who were proud to be nerds, ”Gonzales said.

Tate constantly questioned the status quo in favor of companies that represented his view of black art and culture as multifaceted and complex. As a result, 1999 saw the founding of “Burnt Sugar”, Tate’s musical group, which Jafa would describe as “the culmination of his musical journey”.

Tate’s co-founding and involvement in “Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber” has been described by Jafa as difficult at times. Tate’s work as a music critic will attract many music critics to his work as an artist. Yet Tate maintained his integrity as a musician and journalist, an ability Jafa described as “a testament to how he did it for the love of music,” rather than approval or praise.

Drawing inspiration from artists like Duke Ellington, Chaka Khan, Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix, according to the groups website, “Burnt Sugar” aimed to “freely [move]among many styles, eras and genres to craft your own exciting hybrids.

In 1992, Tate published his first book, an anthology comprising 40 of his essays titled Flyboy in Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America, widely accepted as one of his seminal and essential works.

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“The wisdom. The cadence. The swagger. The way Greg Tate spat bars on the page so that the sentences fuse with a strong muscular beat. Let him rest to the rhythm of the ancestors,” Michelle Norris of the Washington Post tweeted.

Friends, family and fans will remember Greg Tate as the man who could attach rhythm, intensity, wit and charm to his lyrics. They note the exceptional lens through which he saw the world, and how his mind was balancing the qualities that make a talented writer and artist. “Sometimes people have to choose between the intellect and the soul, and Greg has shown how it is possible to function without sacrificing either of these polarities,” Jafa said.

As the world mourns the loss of the “godfather of hip-hop journalism,” readers recognize that he remains a trailblazer in the fields of musical and journalistic influence.

“I would describe him as someone who had the observant eye of a poet. Who saw life in a way as a storyline and saw each person as a character in the arc of this incredible story called life, ”Combs said,“ He will be missed. He will be sorely, sorely missed.

Copy edited by Jasper Smith

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