Greg Tate, groundbreaking music critic for The Village Voice and “the grandfather of hip-hop journalism,” died on Tuesday at the age of 64.
His death was announced by a representative of Duke University Press, where his books were published, but his cause of death was not revealed. Journalist Nate Chinen confirmed his passing on Twitter, writing that he was “absolutely gutted to learn (from a trusted source) that Greg Tate has left this dimension.”
“What a hero he’s been,” Chinen continued, “a fiercely original critical voice, a deep musician, an encouraging big brother to so many of us. Total shock.”
A film and journalist major at Howard University, a historically Black college that also boasts writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, author Toni Morrison, the late actor Chadwick Boseman, and current Vice President Kamala Harris as notable alumni, Greg Tate later went on to write for The Village Voice.
At the famous New York City hub for cultural criticism, he worked alongside music critic Robert Christgau and was a Black Rock Coalition Co-Founder–a group of musicians who rejected the labels that record companies sequestered for Black artists.
Remembered by fans and contemporaries online, the influential critic’s passing came as a complete surprise, with many sharing fond memories of reading his work over the years.
“Rest Easy Greg Tate. He wrote about all the bands I loved,” said Dante Ross, a former-Tommy Boy Records A&R executive for musicians in New York once named in the top of his field by Complex.
“He championed both Public Enemy and the Bad Brains before it was cool,” Ross wrote. “He had magnificent taste and a way with the written word. We all grew up reading him. He was as much of a star to me as the bands he wrote about.”
Rob Sheffield, longtime music critic for Rolling Stone, also penned a touching tribute to Greg Tate, posting a review he’s had taped to his wall of a Chaka Khan live show that Tate wrote.
“This is how it’s done,” he said about Tate’s writing. “‘The only wail that matters, the roar & the resonance against which all contenders are judged.’ That was Tate, for all of us.”
From The Village Voice, Greg Tate went on to write for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vibe, Essence, and Rolling Stone, among others. He also published his essays and works in two collected books, Flyboy in the Buttermilk and Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture.
Toward the end of his career, he taught at universities such as Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, as well as writing a book on Jimi Hendrix entitled Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience.
In a 2015 review of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly for Rolling Stone, he wrote, “Roll over Beethoven, tell Thomas Jefferson and his overseer Bull Connor the news: Kendrick Lamar and his jazzy guerrilla hands just mob-deeped the new Jim Crow, then stomped a mud hole out that ass.”
“Spoke with Greg Tate once for an article on Janet and Michael’s relationship with hard rock and he was so kind and brilliant just speaking off the cuff with some random fangirl who called him up,” said music journalist Brittany Spanos. “😭 such a legend and influence on how i thought about race and pop music.”
For the piece, Greg Tate called hard rock a “white supremacist genre” as we know it, and spoke about Black musicians “capability to be real rock & rollers,” a subject close to his heart since the early days of the Black Rock Coalition.
Tate was also a musician himself, playing for a band called Burnt Sugar. The rock and jazz freestyle group put out nearly a dozen albums over the length of their long career.
Before his passing, Greg Tate was working on another biography, this time about James Brown, the “godfather of soul” and one of the original Black rock & rollers.