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Standout Track: “Hurt Cult,” the latest track from avant-futurist jazz and poetry group Heroes Are Gang Leaders, transcends genre. Is it Improvisational trap-jazz? Is it “Bitches Brew meets Yung Thug?” as bassist Luke Stewart calls it? Yes, it’s both of those things, but the eight-minute track is also much more than that.
Musical Motivation: The group—composed of musicians and poets based across the country, with Stewart and drummer Warren “Trae” Crudup residing in D.C.—formed shortly after the death of poet Amiri Baraka in 2014 as a “chance for a group of musicians and poets to come together to celebrate [his] spirit through music and poetry,” Stewart says. Baraka’s work has guided the direction of the group’s first two albums, The Avant-Age Garde I Ams of the Gal Luxury and Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers, but “Hurt Cult” is more of an experiment in fusing genres. “I definitely had this concept in my head for a long time,” says Stewart, who composed the bass riff that drives the tune. “It’s been a long time now where all these people in jazz have been talking about [fusing] jazz and hip-hop.”
Truth Will Set You Free: Controversy struck Heroes Are Gang Leaders earlier this year when one of its former members, Larkin Grimm, accused band co-leader and D.C. native Thomas Sayers Ellis of sexual harassment. Quickly, the rest of the band came to Ellis’ defense, including vocalist Margaret Morris, who issued a public statement refuting Grimm’s claims. But the accusation took a toll on the band, and the song is a meditation on the incident. “We’re all feeling a lot of pain—it’s a statement on where we are today,” Stewart says. “We’re examining each other’s truths and trying to figure out how to define a personal and individual truth within ourselves.”