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How a cult Scottish-Jewish rock band finally hit the Top 10 more than four decades after they broke up

In 1974, Gentle Giant released the song ‘Proclamation.’ In 2023, Travis Scott sampled it for his song ‘Hyaena.’

You can be forgiven if you have never heard of the progressive-rock group Gentle Giant. The Scottish-Jewish band never enjoyed the sort of commercial success of peers including Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, and Jethro Tull. Yet they enjoyed a cult following for their unique blend of prog-rock, incorporating elements from medieval, classical, avant-garde, jazz, funk, psychedelia, and other styles of music. While the group included other members, the core of the band at its founding in 1970 included Phil, Ray, and Derek Shulman, sons of an army musician-turned-jazz trumpeter who encouraged his sons to follow in his footsteps.

But this past August, 43 years after the brothers Shulman brought down the curtain on their decade-long run as Gentle Giant, they found themselves back on the pop charts, bigger than they ever were the first time around, when rapper and hip-hop artist Travis Scott released the single, “Hyaena,” which opens with a vocal sample from Gentle Giant’s 1974 song “Proclamation.”

That the aptly-named Scott should choose to open his new album, “Utopia,” with a sample of the “Proclamation”— the leadoff track of Gentle Giant’s 1974 album, “The Power and the Glory” — is one of the unlikeliest musical matchups but also a delightful testament to the power of a good melody and lyric to transcend time and genre, as well as a tribute to Scott’s ears and his wide-open musical aesthetic.

In response to the gesture, Gentle Giant issued this statement: “We are honored by the inclusion of our 1974 song ‘Proclamation’ in the intro track ‘Hyaena’ to Travis Scott’s new album ‘Utopia.’ We are always amazed how Gentle Giant’s music continues to inspire and evolve across diverse genres and generations, particularly within the Hip-Hop community.”

Scott’s “Hyaena” took that snippet of Gentle Giant to places the very British outfit never reached on its own. Scott’s single hit the Top 20 on Billboard’s pop chart and the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Gentle Giant itself might already have been seen as something of an unlikely musical assemblage. The group was an outgrowth of the Shulmans’ first band, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, formed in early 1966 to play original R&B-style rock in the vein of early music by the Who. Unsatisfied with their musical direction, they re-formed themselves as Gentle Giant in 1970 in order to shed the association with the pop orientation of Simon Dupree in favor of a more experimental approach.

(Incidentally, Simon Dupree had an interim keyboard player named Reginald Dwight for a short time when their regular keyboardist took ill. Dwight turned down an offer to join the band as an official member, telling the Shulmans he was going to launch a solo career under the moniker of Elton John, to which they reportedly responded with copious laughter. Comic actor Dudley Moore also briefly tickled the ivories for Simon Dupree.)

Gentle Giant performing at the Uptown Theater in Chicago, 1977. Image by

In a 1995 interview, Phil Shulman reflected on the impact of the Shulmans’ Jewish legacy. “Derek, Raymond and myself were born into a Jewish family but I have no religion as such … religion was never forced upon us by my father, which is unusual for a Jew…. Derek is fairly into it, I think, and Ray and myself have no religion. I’ve got the capacity for it, but being a Jew coming from a very hard area of Glasgow and a bit of Scotsman as well…. My father was half Scots; his father was Jewish; and his mother was Scottish. I was brought up as a Jewish kid with strong Scottish influences.”

The Scottish influences were much more prominent in the music of Gentle Giant than anything Jewish, although the guitar solo on the song “Why Not?” on the group’s first album, Gentle Giant, sounds like a fractured version of “Hava Nagilah.”

As was the case with the Shulmans, Travis Scott’s father was also a musician, and his grandfather was a jazz composer. Scott has enjoyed four #1 albums in a row and has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. He has also branched out into the field of fashion design and helped create a special McDonald’s meal called “The Travis Scott,” a very unkosher Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon, lettuce, medium fries with barbecue sauce, and a Sprite. Scott has two children with celebrity Kylie Jenner.

Besides the sample of Gentle Giant, Scott’s “Hyaena” also contains the lyric, “Write a show by myself like I’m Chelsea Handler,” a reference to the Jewish actress, author, TV host and producer. Scott’s new album also includes a duet with Canadian-Jewish rapper Drake.

As for the lyrics Scott sampled from Gentle Giant, it is possible there may be something mystical about them, but ultimately the listener will have to be the judge:

The situation we are in at this time

Neither a good one, nor is it so unblest

It can change, it can stay the same,

I can say, I can make my claim.

Hail … Hail … Hail.

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