Gil Scott-Heron in House
Sampling GSH – From Moodymann to DJ Rashad
This week I’d normally be writing reviews of my favorite recent records, but my monthly Redeye box with said plates is still in the ether of global parcel logistics. Instead, I’m shooting from the hip with something that’s been swimming around my mental mind for a few years now.
From the breakout of COVID until the beginning of 2022 I was totally checked out of dance music. My labels were on ice, I wasn’t following new releases and I broke off my decade-old daily practice of digging for records. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns were an extremely fucked up time for everyone, but the way this fucked-up-ness manifested for me was particularly potent. Health issues I’d been struggling to cope with for most of my adult life suddenly took on monstrous proportions, loosing my already-tenuous grip on physical well-being. It’s a subject I’m still figuring out how I’d like to discuss (or not) due to its personal nature and how, frankly, scary things became. I’m also still dealing with the many of the same issues, albeit to a more manageable degree, so I don’t yet have the enlightened perspective of hindsight to view what’s happened in some epistemological rear-view mirror as I happily drive off into the sunset. On the plus side, this explains why I’m writing here, threatening weekly to break the glass on the nerdometer instead of actually DJ’ing.
So, things were bad. So bad I essentially had to rebuild my life from the ground up. Dance music ceased to have any relevance. What I needed at the time was music that conveyed beauty and hope, elaborated on the struggle of the soul or, ideally, achieved all of the above at the same time. To be sure, there were some white emo classics (Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again, Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief), but the above admixture of emotions and ideas is largely the purview of black music for reasons of history and violence we all hopefully understand. Enter Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday, Bill Withers and, most importantly, Gil Scott-Heron.
For me, Bill Withers was a font of positivity and kindness. Nina and Billie were beauty born of suffering. Sam was hope for change. But Gil was all of these things and more. He described the spectrums of experiences and reactions caused by being black in America, but also articulated a set of emotions and ideas that, while equally a product of his blackness, resonated deeply with my own predicament. That is: the violent struggles of, and between, the mind and body. What’s it like for the mind to be at war with the body? With itself? For the body to be a vessel of suffering that belongs to you and is you, but you have no control over? Gil’s gnosis of this existential crisis came from years of heroin addiction, but I think the same awareness can come, in-part or in-full, to anyone in the right (wrong) circumstances.
So I mercilessly rinsed Gil’s discography for months. Jordge made a Spotify playlist of all his LPs and set it on loop so I could absorb his work hands-free as I convalesced. Gil helped me become aware of and relate to all levels of my experience; the suffering, the hope, the dark humor, the beauty, the failure, the shame, the opportunity for rebirth / redemption etc, etc. In modern parlance I think it could be said he helped me ‘process’ what I was going through.
Fast forward past the Bad Times: I was improved but still had to spend much of the day managing my health. I couldn’t work but I did have the juice (and free time!) to undertake the monumental project of listening to all of my records. With my nascent knowledge of Gil’s work, I started noticing his voice, riffs and snippits of songs in a handful of pieces from my collection. The connection I’d made with Gil, the man, transferred itself into a deeper connection with those records now that I had the context to appreciate the message delivered via sampling him. I also began hunting down tracks that did the same. Below is a shortlist of those records along with a few less-obvious ones I pulled from whosampled.com.
Moodymann - “Amerika” [KDJ, 1997]
Unsurprisingly, Moody rides hard for GSH. Amerika wouldn’t be the last time sampling the man. He’s also released an iffy edit of “Home is Where the Hatred Is” on Mahogani Music. Enchanted by its deepness and feeling less than patriotic in my early 20’s, Amerika was the first and only Moody record I paid big second-hand bucks for.
The Parkwalker - “Shades of Soul'“ [Funknose, 2000]
This is Affie Yusuf producing under one of his Deep House aliases . It had been on my radar long before I knew it sampled Gil’s adlib introduction to “H20gate Blues”. Whether you are familiar with GSH or not, the music is undeniably beautiful. I’d wanted a copy for years but after becoming intimately acquainted with Gil, I needed this more than any other record. SweetJordge came through and got it for me as a birthday gift. It was the first record I put on the platter once I was well enough to flip my Technics on.
Danny “Buddha” Morales - “Peace Won’t Come” [4th Floor Records, 1998]
Danny “Buddha” Morales has been a buy-on-sight producer for years now and holds down a spot in my underrated NYC House trinity with Louie Balo and Benji Candelario. I’ve got plates in the double digits bearing his name and I’ll certainly write more about him, Louie and Benji here in the future. “Peace Won’t Come” was a total sleeper for me as “Ride of the Buddha” was the freaky, techy joint I always pulled this record for. Nonetheless, it’s a fun looping MPC jam that uses a vocal hook from Gil’s “Work For Peace” as its main conceit. A straight-up Trip-Hop track, “Work For Peace” is Gil’s only foray into electronic music I’m aware of.
T.T.O. - “The Bottle (Mentor Club MIx)” [Groove On, 1996]
This one is a House cover of Gil’s original with accomplished NYC House producer, Hippie Torrales, on vocals. The vocal version works for me and is certainly better than most dance music covers of the era, but the real gem is Hippie’s Mentor Dub. It’s tracky, ruffneck garage hits like a Mood II Swing dub and can hang with the best of them.
Some quick hits below that whosampled.com hipped me to:
Oh, Yoko - “Seashore (Sprinkles' Ambient Ballroom)”: DJ Sprinkles layers her tracks with subtle, even coded messages addressing the essentiality of queerness in House music. Here, she takes a single word – “ballin’” – from Gil’s poem, “The Subject Was Faggots”, an account of his experience at a drag ball from 1970, and loops and reverbs it until the listener can hear whatever they choose. Is ballin’ the act of attending a drag ball? The now-archaic synonym for fucking? Or is it actually “falling”? I’d guess the ambiguity is the intention.
KenLou - “Moonshine” & Rick Wilhite - “Get on Up (Theo’s Late Dub)”: Both of these have been in stacks for ages but I never clocked their sampled piano riffs from the live version of Gil and Brian Jackson’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is”.
Kubrick - “Whities on the Moon”: There were many Dutch attempts at making American House in the 90s but few successes. Even highlights like Jamshed’s “Women and Whiskey (Dub)” still have some of that Amsterdam XTC NRG. Here, Kubrick passes the Turing Test.
DJ Rashad - “On My Way”: A fitting end for his 2012 Teklife Volume 1 LP, “On My Way” is also tragically prophetic as Rashad would pass away from an overdose two years later. It samples “Home is Where the Hatred Is”, Gil’s ode to his own heroin addiction. Rashad clearly connected with the original as he also used it as the backbone for “I’m Gone” in 2011.
Thanks for reading! I’m sure there are many, many more GSH-sampling records out there. I’d love to learn about them, so drop a comment if you know any!
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