The black Bob Dylan,
or the godfather of rap? Both, actually.
By Fred Mills
Legendary musician, poet and spoken-word provocateur Gil
Scott-Heron passed away yesterday at the age of 62 at New York’s St. Luke’s Hospital. No immediate
cause of death has been announced yet, although he had recently returned from Europe and subsequently fell ill. The Associated Press
reported that a person answering the phone at Scott-Heron’s Manhattan recording company could not
elaborate, noting, “We’re all sort of shattered.” He is survived by a wife and
By all accounts, the man’s last decade was fraught,
involving arrest and imprisonment on drug possession charges and at least on
one occasion leaving rehab prematurely; it was also rumored that he was HIV
positive. Yet by 2009 and 2010, things seemed to be back on track for
Scott-Heron, and with the February 2010 release of I’m New Here (followed up this year with a remixed version of it, We’re New Here), he once again generated
considerable critical acclaim.
Scott-Heron’s influence cannot be overstated: early on, he
was called “the black Bob Dylan” and would eventually be dubbed “the godfather of rap”
thanks to his unique and idiosyncratic blend of music and spoken word – as evidenced
on his classic 1971 hit “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It’s testimony
to the man’s timelessness that that song title eventually entered the lexicon
as a standalone catch-phrase. He crossed over between the rock, jazz and soul
worlds; 1974’s Winter In America,
with keyboardist Brian Jackson, was a hit among aficionados of all three genres.
And while his heyday was in the ‘70s, he continued to perform to appreciative
crowds throughout his life, his music and his lyrics being discovered by successive generations every few years.