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Revered cultural critic Greg Tate has died at age 64


One of the most revered and influential cultural critics of the last 30 years has passed away. Greg Tate was a writer with encyclopedic interests, best known for his incisive writing on early hip-hop.

JOE LEVY: Greg's writing was revelatory. The work is at a different, stellar, superhuman quality.


Joe Levy was Tate's editor at The Village Voice in the late '80s, early '90s.

LEVY: Let's be clear. Editing Greg, I mean, it's a little bit like being the coach that decides it would be a good idea for Michael Jordan to start that night.

KELLY: Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1957. Tate moved to New York City in the '80s. He began to write full time for The Village Voice in 1987, establishing himself as a crucial translator of the city's hip-hop and rap scene. But that wasn't all.

LEVY: He's writing about film. He's writing about books. He's writing about culture. He's writing about scholarship. He's writing about philosophy. He's - any writing he did was a revelation.

CORNISH: In a 1992 interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Tate put it this way.


GREG TATE: I've always tried to produce critical writing that had as much vitality and viscerality (ph) as the art or the phenomena or the experience that I was trying to describe to someone else. I'm really trying to plug a reader into my central nervous system in its most hotwired state.

DREAM HAMPTON: I understood Greg first and foremost as an artist, you know, not just as a cultural critic.

CORNISH: Dream Hampton was a close friend of Tate's in the early '90s. She was trying to break into music criticism, and Tate introduced her to his editors at The Village Voice.

HAMPTON: He was just generous in that he knew that an open hand just meant that things would flow back to him tenfold.

KELLY: Tate also left a mark on his community in Harlem, where he lived for decades. Last night, in his honor, the Apollo Theater put his name up on the marquee, just like they've done for other cultural icons.

HAMPTON: Harlem was everything for Tate. And when James Brown died, when Michael Jackson died, when Obama was elected, Tate would make that sojourn down to 125th Street. And he would always take a photo of those marquees. So it was so beautiful for me yesterday when the Apollo put his name up on that marquee.

KELLY: Greg Tate - he died yesterday at the age of 64.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARADE SONG, "SING TO ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.