DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Greg Tate, an influential writer and critic focusing on Black music and art whose work appeared in the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, died December 7 in New York City. He was 64.
Tate made an impact on New York’s cultural scene in the 1980s after graduating from Howard University at a time when the city was full of aspiring rap artists and writers, disco DJs and punk rockers. Clay Risen of The New York Times wrote that Tate’s tastes varied widely, as did his style. His whirlwind sentences might string together a pop culture, French literary theory and the latest slang. Besides his writing, Tate played guitar and formed a band called Burnt Sugar and the Arkestra Chamber (ph). And with guitarist Vernon Reid, he formed the Black Rock Coalition to promote Black musicians.
Terry spoke to Greg Tate in 1992, when he’d published a collection of essays titled “Flyboy In The Buttermilk.”
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS: One of the forms of music you’ve written a lot about is rap. And there’s a lot of the music that you really like a lot. On the other hand, you are – you take issue with a lot of the points of view in the rock records. You once described Public Enemy as having a whack retarded philosophy they espouse. What kinds of dilemmas does rap music present for you?
GREG TATE: Well, I don’t know that rap presents any more of a dilemma to me than any other form of music or any other form of argument. I think that one of the things that rap or hip-hop isn’t given enough credit for is the way – the spaces it opens for, you know, I think, serious intellectual discussion around a lot of issues that are shrouded in silence in society – and particularly in an African American society, particularly issues around sexuality and gender and also oppositional politics and also the experience of working-class Black people and poor Black people, people on the lower economic rung of the society. It – and that’s – you know, and that’s part of what hip-hop does. I think hip-hop is a venue for debate more than anything else, you know, and for argument and counterargument.
GROSS: Let me read an excerpt from your essay “The Devil Made ‘Em Do It: Public Enemy” (ph). You write, (reading) to know Public Enemy is to love the agitprop and artful noise and to worry over the whack retarded philosophy they espouse, like the Black woman has always been kept up by the white male because the white male has always wanted the Black woman, like gays aren’t doing what’s needed to build the Black nation, like white people are actually monkey’s uncles because that’s who they mated with in the Caucasian hills, like if the Palestinians took up arms, when into Israel and killed all the Jews, it’d be all right. From this idiot blather, Public Enemy is obviously making it up as they go along. Since PE shows sound reasoning when they focus on …….