News spread Tuesday afternoon of the passing of the inspirational writer, musician, and creator Greg Tate. More than a music critic, Tate, 64, set the standard for the art of critiquing and exploring contemporary mediums across genres.
Among the best the Midwest has to offer, Tate was born in Dayton, Ohio, moving to Washington, D.C., in his early teens. Tate once said he was inspired to write after reading “Black Music and Rolling Stone” by Amiri Baraka (né Imamu Jones). In 1992, Tate published “Flyboy In The Buttermilk: Essays On Contemporary America,” exploring race, politics, literature, and music.
Okayplayer called him the “godfather of hip hop journalism,” signaling his importance to the development of a genre of news coverage and commentary.
Howard Professor Greg Carr highlighted the importance of Tate’s work to a generation of writers.
“Greg Tate set standards for writers of his generation who wrestle with contemporary Africana popular culture,” tweeted Carr. “His ideas, range, technique and command of genealogy should be required reading for those attempting it now. May your soul rise like Re, Brother. We’re still listening.
A 2018 Pitchfork article notes Tate’s early career with the Village Voice, citing a 1981 assignment covering the Fearless Four. Tate told Pitchfork he felt like a wartime reporter, reflecting on his earlier work.
“It was like writing war dispatches right there on the ground,” Tate told Pitchfork. “There was all this incendiary work coming out. It was unprecedented. It didn’t sound like anything that had come before. There was a lot to talk about.”
He would go on to join the Village Voice staff in 1987.
While known by many for his in-depth coverage and connection to hip hop, Tate was a quintessential culture critic engaging Black art and life in an unapologetic exploration of creativity. Scrolling through Tate’s work at the Village Voice readers will find everything from profiles of Daughter of the Dusk Director Julie Dash to reviews of Terry McMillan’s “A Day Late” and Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.”
Last year, Tate co-curated the exhibit “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The exhibit featured the work of Basquiat’s contemporaries and sometime collaborators, including Futura, Fab 5 Freddy, A-One, Lady Pink, and Koor Koor.
In addition to his writing, Tate was a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition and played guitar in an affiliated band called Women In Love. He later co-founded Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, an improvisational group committed to composing, recording, and performing music across the experimental soul-jazz hip hop spectrum.
“Rather than limit ourselves to the straight jackets that the commercial recording industry uses to market contemporary Black Music, Burnt Sugar freely moves amongst many styles, eras and genres to devise its own exciting hybrids,” read the band’s site. “These hybrids are based on a solid foundation of various musical traditions and the use of cutting-edge music technology.”
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