RIP: Gil Scott-Heron

Posted May 29, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in News

Spoken word poet, funk fusion extraordinaire and rap innovator succumbs in New York at the age of 62

Gil Scott-Heron, the legendary voice behind the militant spoken-word hit “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was silenced on May 27, 2011 at St. Luke Hospital after becoming ill after returning from a European trip.

He was often called by hip-hop journalists to be the “Godfather of Rap;” a title that he has often declined in accepting.  But his musical style encompasses the very spirit of jazz fusion, merging his spoken word skills (usually of black militant activism) with the elements of funk and soul music. At the height of his career, he often collaborated with jazz musician Brian Jackson and recorded such iconic pieces as “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” “The Bottle” along with his Winter In America LP.

Hip-hop acts have consistently celebrated the contributions of Scott-Heron, sampling his form and work religiously. Still, Scott-Heron saw his work as more than just hip-hop gold. “If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating `hooks,’ which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion,” he wrote in the introduction to his 1990 collection of poems, “Now and Then.”

He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply “black music or black American music.”

“Because Black Americans are now a tremendously diverse essence of all the places we’ve come from and the music and rhythms we brought with us,” he wrote.

After recording on small labels through the 1970’s, Scott-Heron was signed to Arista in 1975 after the success of his single, “The Bottle” (#15″, R&B). The Brian Jackson-guested double-LP live recording, It’s Your World, was released in 1976, earning kudos from most music critics. Years after its release, the album has earned newer audiences and critical fanfare, including praises from U.S. News & World Report, PopMatters and Robert Christgau. In his latter years, Scott-Heron released I’m New Here (2010), his last studio record. The album was embraced by a number of music critics, even receiving a glowing statement from UK’s Guardian magazine, calling it the “best of the next decade.” He also made a guest appearance on the closing track of Kanye West‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Prior to that, Scott-Heron showed major respect to West by sampling the rapper’s “Flashing Lights” on his last record. West has sampled Scott-Heron’s work a number of times, including “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and “We Almost Lost Detroit.”

Well wishes and sympathy statements from celebrities began to unfold across the Web after his death, with strong quotes coming from Eminem (who stated that he “influenced all of hip-hop”), Usher and record producer Richard Russel.

He is survived by his wife, Brenda Sykes, and daughter, Gia.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Response


Please support HIFI Magazine
By clicking any of these buttons you help our site to get better