Gil Scott-Heron dies; influential poet/musician helped inspire rap
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Gil Scott-Heron, whose late 1960s and early ‘70s poetry set to rhythmic jazz music, especially ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ was one of the most important and obvious inspirations for rap music, has died, according to his British publisher.
The poet and musician, who had long struggled with drug addiction, had in the past two years returned into the public eye with an acclaimed solo recording, ‘I’m New Here,’ and a follow-up remix album done by Jamie xx of the British group the XX. Scott-Heron was 62.
Last year the New Yorker published a reverent but heartbreaking profile of Scott-Heron by Alec Wilkinson. Written after Scott-Heron had recorded ‘I’m New Here’ but after he had relapsed and was smoking crack openly in front of the reporter, the story traced his rise, his fall and his influence.
In an interview for the feature, bassist Ron Carter, who played on ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ described Scott-Heron’s allure: ‘He wasn’t a great singer, but with that voice, if he had whispered it would have been dynamic. It was a voice like you would have for Shakespeare.’
In the same story, which is behind a paywall here, rapper Chuck D. discusses the role Scott-Heron played in the birth of rap: ‘You can go into the beat poets and [Allen] Ginsberg and [Bob] Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern world. He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else. In what way necessary? Well, if you try and make pancakes and you ain’t got the water, the milk or the eggs, you’re trying to do something you can’t. In combining music with the word, from the voice on down, you follow the template he laid out. His rapping is rhythmic. Some of it’s songs. It’s punchy, and all those qualities are still used today.’
Pop & Hiss will have more on Gil Scott-Heron’s legacy, and The Times will have a full obituary in Sunday’s paper.
-- Randall Roberts