RIP: Pioneer Spoken-Word Musician Gil Scott-Heron

The hugely influential "Godfather of Rap" has passed away unexpectedly.  

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud


Influential poet, musician and all-around beautiful human being Gil Scott-Heron died Friday afternoon in New York. He was 62. Long credited as an ancestor of hip-hop, Scott-Heron is best known for the spoken-word mass media critique piece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (watch below), and by fusing minimalistic percussion, political expression and spoken-word poetry, has been cited as a key influence in the hip-hop community.


Scott-Heron's recording career began in 1970 with the album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, which featured the first version of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." The track has since been referenced, satirized and popularized extensively in pop culture.

Known for his mix of minimalist percussion, often accompanied by longtime collaborator pianist Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron found power in his highly expressive lyrics, a blend of poetry and politics which critiqued the superficiality of modern America, and chronicled inner-city living and "black America."


He continued to record through the 1970s and early '80s, before disappearing from the public eye until returning to the studio for 1994's Spirits. He endured struggles with substance abuse within the last decade, in and out of jail on drug possession charges. Nevertheless, he began performing again after his incarceration release in 2007, and in 2010 released a new album, I'm New Here, to widespread critical acclaim.


Watch the title track to I'm New Here:


The influential artist was often referred to as the Godfather of Rap, a title he rejected. "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."


His most high-profile recent appearance on record came via rapper-producer Kanye West, who closed his smash 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with a track built around a sample of Scott-Heron's "Who Will Survive in America?" performance.


Throughout his musical career, Scott-Heron was an active political voice, setting his sights on apartheid in South Africa and nuclear arms after being raised on the politics of the 1960s and the black literature, especially of the Harlem Renaissance.


He will be sadly missed.


Photo: Mark McNulty