Greg Tate, revered music and cultural critic whose efforts documenting hip-hop in its early years help solidify the sound as a powerhouse genre, has died. He was 64.
Laura Sell, a spokeswoman for the late author’s publisher Duke University Press, confirmed the news to Rolling Stone on Tuesday, Dec. 7, although his cause of death was not yet revealed. “The Black Rock Coalition is shocked, saddened and absolutely devastated with the news that our brother, friend and co-founder Greg Tate made his transition earlier today,” the group said in a statement.
“Greg led the wave of Black writers who, without apology, honored the past yet went full speed ahead into the future, giving dap to Black artists across the cultural spectrum who were not getting love within mainstream circles,” they added.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Washington, D.C., Tate studied film and journalism at Howard University. He got his footing in the editorial industry in the 1980s working as a staff writer for New York’s Village Voice. He would later go on to work for prestigious publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Vibe.
However, it would be his work in hip-hop that garnered the most attention, especially at a time when the genre was merely looked at as a fad that would go as quickly as it came onto the scene, but Tate saw more. The “Flyboy in the Buttermilk” author also wrote about jazz, and captured the attention of Vernon Reid, Dream Hampton, Kevin Powell, and many more.
Industry figures were crushed by news about Tate’s death, including singer-songwriter Saul Williams, who took to his Twitter account where he reflected on his fondest memories of the godfather of hip-hop journalism.
“My first gig at CBGBs, my band was setting up for sound check, Greg Tate walks in with his guitar & amp, walks right on stage and plugs in,” the musician recalled. “He looks me dead in eye, ‘You know I’m in your band, right? Y’all ain’t traveling to space without me.’ & that was that.
Poet, essayist, and fellow cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib wrote that there is “no language for how thankful I am to have lived in a time where I could learn from Greg Tate.” He added, “Absolutely devastated by this loss.”
In addition to writing and advocacy, Tate led a funk-influenced jazz band called Burnt Sugar. He’s last work included a book out about the late James Brown for Riverhead Press.
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