The singer-songwriter, poet, and hip-hop progenitor Gil Scott-Heron died Friday, May 27, in New York City. He was 62.
Throughout the 1970s, Scott-Heron released multiple spoken word and soul records, approaching subjects like race, religion, and sexuality in a manner both divisively political and undeniably personal. The first track on his 1970 debut album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", a call to arms fueled by a disavowal of overconsumption, and one of his most lasting and oft-referenced works. The dozen other poems on the live album, including the pointed humor of "Whitey on the Moon" and deathly serious "Comment #1", proved Scott-Heron to be a gifted writer and performer.
1971's Pieces of a Man consisted primarily of songs. The lush, driving arrangements of "Lady Day and John Coltrane", "Home Is Where The Hatred Is", and "I Think I'll Call It A Morning" made them instantly memorable soul classics, but Scott-Heron's songwriting chops, now put to the forefront, shined. The title track is a devastating, unshakable portrayal of pain, and one of his best songs. Pieces of a Man kicked off a lasting collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson, with whom Scott-Heron would work with into the 1980s. Their first co-released record, Winter in America (1974), marked Scott-Heron's first label change, as well as greater availability and heightened critical acclaim. He performed two songs, "Johannesburg" and "A Lovely Day", off 1976's From South Africa to South Carolina, during an inaugural-season episode of "Saturday Night Live" hosted by Richard Pryor.
Gil Scott-Heron's output decreased significantly in the 1980s -- over the last three decades, he only released six more albums -- but as hip-hop came alive in the Bronx, where he spent his teenage years, his poetic influence could be heard in its rhythms and narratives; the comparisons only grew as producers became more skilled and introduced elements of jazz and soul into the music. Scott-Heron came to be known as "The Godfather of Rap", though he denounced the nickname. He preferred "bluesologist".
He struggled with addiction and found himself imprisoned multiple times throughout the 2000s on drug-related charges, but he still recorded and performed music. His sixteenth and final album, I'm New Here, was released early last year by XL, and ranks among his finest releases of the '70s. A stark and heavily confessional album, it brought Scott-Heron back into the spotlight; a remix of the album by The xx's Jamie Smith -- We're New Here, also on XL -- opens up Scott-Heron's world to a new generation.
Black America Web reports that New York's Riverside Church will be hosting a memorial service tomorrow, June 2, at 10:30 A.M. From 6-9 P.M., a public viewing will take place at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 81st Street and Madison Avenue.
Enjoy a sampling of the great Gil Scott-Heron's work below.