Gil Scott-Heron: Remembering the Godfather of Hip-Hop & Fellow HBCU grad [VIDEO]

Last Updated on May 31, 2023

Source: Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune & Guardian News and Media

In 1970, the American poet and jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron, who has died aged 62 after returning from a trip to Europe, recorded a track that has come to be seen as a crucial forerunner of rap. To many it made him the “godfather” of the medium, though he was keener to view his song-like poetry as just another strand in the diverse world of black music.

Gil Scott-Heron
Photo by Mischa Richter

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised came on his debut LP, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, a collection of proselytising spoken-word pieces set to a sparse, funky tableau of percussion. It served as a militant manifesto urging black pride, and a blueprint for his life's work: in the album's sleeve notes, Scott-Heron described himself as “a Black man dedicated to expression; expression of the joy and pride of Blackness”. He derided white America's complacency over inner-city inequality with mordant wit and social observation:

Public Enemy’s Chuck D once said hip-hop was black America's CNN. If so, Gil Scott-Heron was the network’s first great anchorman, presaging hip-hop and infusing soul and jazz with poetry, humor and pointed political commentary.

Scott-Heron died Friday at the age of 62, according to his U.K. publisher. The Pitchfork Web site said the report was confirmed by a record-company publicist.

His songs, including “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “The Bottle” and “Johannesburg,” were hard-edged yet melodic, influencing subsequent generations of soul and hip-hop artists who revered him as a pioneer, including Common, Erykah Badu, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West. Scott-Heron has been featured on Kanye's previous albums and featured currently on Kanye's ‘Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' album: Who Will Survive in America (see video below).

Scott-Heron was born in 1949 in Chicago and spent most of his childhood in Tennessee and then New York. He showed an affinity for writing at an early age. His first novel, “The Vulture,” was published when he was 19, then he shifted to music in an effort to reach a wider audience. He teamed with Brian Jackson, a gifted musician he met while attending Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa.

“I had an affinity for jazz and syncopation, and the poetry came from the music,” Scott-Heron told the Tribune in a 1998 interview. “We made the poems into songs, and we wanted the music to sound like the words, and Brian's arrangements very often shaped and molded them.”

Gil Scott-Heron take on the hip-hop generation's moral responsibilities (1994):

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