R.I.P. Gil Scott-Heron 1949-2011
(by Wallace Wylie)
If you were part of Nixon’s silent majority then Gil Scott-Heron in 1970 was probably your idea of a nightmare. Scott-Heron was young, black, angry and articulate. His words were poetic, insightful and sometimes even hilarious. Most famous for ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, he was so much more than that (admittedly brilliant) song. Although he lost his way somewhat in the late 70s, from 1970 to 1976 he produced a body of work as good as any in rock, pop, soul or hip-hop.
Sorry, this sounds like I’m inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Forget all that crap you hear about him being the godfather of hip-hop. He isn’t important because he influenced hip-hop. That’s just one of the reasons. Would people call Dylan important because he influenced alt. country? Don’t allow Scott-Heron’s expansive genius to be whittled down to who it influenced. Instead, approach it as necessary in its own right.
In the early 70s, nobody was sharper, nobody else summed up the sense of hurt and betrayal that was simmering in almost every black neighbourhood of America. While the mainstream was gorging itself on The Eagles and CSN & Y, Scott-Heron was the one giving updates about those left behind as America lurched further to the right.
Last year he once more emerged from the shadows and it finally seemed like luck was on his side. Gaining both acclaim and healthy sales, what looked like a comeback now seems like a final bow for the audience. He gave so much, he lost so much, but before he died it looks like he went some way to regaining it all again. Please, listen to Gil Scott-Heron tonight. It’s not enough to say that without him we wouldn’t have hip-hop and it’s a disgrace that reporters only feel the need to ask rappers what their feelings are. By all means talk to Chuck D, but while you’re at it ask Bob Dylan how he feels because if he understands American music like he claims to he should be devastated right now. If the news is only asking African-American performers how they feel then it seems like a lot of the things that tore up Gil Scott-Heron’s heart are still simmering below the surface. He should be on the front of the next Rolling Stone and Mojo, but my guess is that won’t happen. So please, do the world some good and listen to Scott-Heron’s genius. Rest in piece.