Gilbert “Gil” Scott-Heron, (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011), rap musician, poet, author.

Gil Scott-Heron is often referred to as the “Godfather of Rap,” (although he personally resisted the title). He was born in Chicago, but raised in Tennessee and New York City. While attending college at Lincoln University in Philadelphia, he met jazz pianist Brian Jackson. The two would form a musical partnership that lasted throughout the 1970’s and would produce their greatest works. Scott-Heron started off by publishing a novel, The Vulture, at the age of 19. It was a critical success and helped pave the way for his career as a poet and musician. Coming of age during the Civil Rights movement, Scott-Heron’s musical and literary output reflected the anger, despair, and disillusionment found in the African-American community. His poetry and spoken word musical performances were charged with political and social commentary that challenged the values and hypocrisy of suburban, middle-class America. His first album contained one of his best-known poems, recited over a percussion backdrop, called The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“.

Subsequent albums, such as Pieces of A Man, showcased his spoken word raps and singing with collaborator Brian Jackson’s soul-jazz accompaniment. Their album Winter In America produced the hit single, The Bottle,” and featured some of the duo’s best work. The fusion of this music with Scott-Heron’s sociopolitical commentary laid the foundation for current hip hop and rap music, with a lasting influence especially demonstrated in the works of Public Enemy and Kanye West, who included a lengthy tribute to Scott-Heron in his last album.

Gil Scott-Heron’s impact on the musical and artistic was profound. He appeared at the original “No Nukes’ concert and was included on the Artists United Against Apartheid hit protest song “Sun City.” The fusion of contemporary jazz with Scott-Heron’s social commentary laid the foundation for current hip hop and rap music. His work left a lasting influence on rap & hip hop musicians, including Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, Usher, Eminem, Mos Def, Q-Tip, and Kanye West, who included a lengthy tribute to Scott-Heron on his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Gil Scott-Heron had suffered from HIV and addiction to crack cocaine. He died in New York after a trip to Europe. He had recently released a new album, I’m New Here, his first studio album in over a decade. In a commentary on the popular rise of rap in the 1990’s, he stated:

“They need to study music. I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humor. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.”

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