For most of his career, Gil Scott-Heron called New York home, but his Jamaican roots — a crucial if underexamined part of his life — were never far from the jazz-soul genius. Scott-Heron’s father, Giles, left his son when he was an infant to become a professional soccer player and the first black player for Scottish club Glasgow Celtic FC. For 25 years, the two didn’t speak — Scott-Heron sings about their meeting on 1977’s “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!” — but Scott-Heron never forgot his roots. (Exhibit A: His 1983 performance at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash.)
In 1971, Scott-Heron released “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” a standout track on his first studio album, Pieces of a Man, about the perils of drug addiction. “A junkie walking through the twilight, I’m on my way home,” Scott-Heron sings. “I left three days ago but no one seems to know I’m gone.”
Washington D.C. reggae band the Archives paid tribute to what would have been Scott-Heron’s 70th birthday last month with their own gorgeous take on “Hatred.” The first release off new label Montserrat House, founded by Eric Hilton of veteran electronic duo Thievery Corporation, the cover slows down the charging soul of the original song as featured vocalist Puma Ptah imbues the cover with equal amounts poignancy and fire.
Ptah augments the original track with a repeating end phrase, singing, “Why won’t you stop using drugs?/That’s easy for you to say.” Modern reggae covers of classic songs can be a crapshoot, but the group’s interpretation of this song balances the faithful with the inventive.
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The Archives’ debut album will be released later this year and will feature percussionist Larry MacDonald, a member of Scott-Heron’s band Amnesia Express, and Scott-Heron’s longtime musical collaborator Brian Jackson, among others. The group plans to release one song per month leading up to the album’s release.