Can we please have a moment of silence for Gil Scott-Heron, a legendary poet, musician, and activist who died Friday afternoon (May 27) at a New York hospital. There's no word on the cause of death, though he had been battling a severe drug addiction and other health problems for many years. Known as the "Godfather of Rap," Scott-Heron will be forever remembered for his 1970 protest song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." His social messages through music was undeniably Black, political, uncompromising and mature.
Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago in 1949 to parents Bobbie and Gilbert "Gil" Heron. His father, Gilbert, was a famous soccer player who became the first black athlete to play for the Glasgow's Celtic Football Club. Scott-Heron spent his childhood years in Jackson, Tenn., before attended high school in New York where he blossomed, particularly, in creative writing class. After graduating from high school, he attended Lincoln University where he published his first two books, The Vulture, a murder mystery, and The Nigger Factory, a social satire, when he was only 19 years old. Scott-Heron also met musician Brian Jackson at Lincoln U. and their friendship would lead them into music where they formed a band together called Black & Blues.
After college, Scott-Heron and Jackson embarked on a decade-long musical journey that resulted in 11 collaborative albums. Among them was Scott-Heron's 1970 debut album Small Talk At 125th & Lenox, which featured the first version of the heavily-sampled track "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Other LPs included: Free Will in 1972, Pieces of a Man in 1973, Winter in America in 1974 and Midnight Band: The First Minute of a New Day in 1975. "Musically, we completed each other," Jackson reflected in a 2007 interview. "Gil with his deep relationship with the English language and me with my fierce loyalty to the principles of good music. The rest was magic." They broke up in 1979, although they made a few attempts to play together again.
In the 1980s, Scott-Heron continued to be an outspoken musical critic, offering his commentary on apartheid ("Let Me See Your I.D." and "Johannesberg"), Reaganomics ("B-Movie") and nuclear power ("We Almost Lost Detroit"). Although he never had any chart-topping hit singles, the singer-musician came close in 1978 with "Angel Dust," which peaked at No. 15 on the R&B charts. However, Scott-Heron never felt the need to make his music palpable for mainstream audiences. "We never had a lot of airplay, so I never miss it," Scott-Heron told the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1998. "I wrote my first book before I knew how to get it published, and we started making music before we knew there was a marketplace for it. I have always worked like that, because the work itself should be motivation enough."
Scott-Heron struggled publicly with his addiction to crack. He spent much of the 2000's in jail on various drug possession charges and was paroled in 2007. He was also HIV positive.
After a 13-year hiatus from music, Scott-Heron released a new album in 2010 via XL Recordings titled I'm New Here, which garnered favorable reviews. "Gil meant a massive amount to me, as he did to so many people," elegized XL Recordings founder Richard Russell via his Tumblr page. "His talent was immense. He was a a master lyricist, singer, orator, and keyboard player. His spirit was immense. He channeled something that people derived huge benefit from."
Gil Scott-Heron is survived by his ex-wife, '70s actress Brenda Sykes; a half-brother, Denis Scott-Heron; a son, Rumal; and two daughters, Gia Scott-Heron and Che Newton.
"He's one of my heroes, an incredible source of energy, power, and truth in the world," said Mos Def of Gil Scott-Heron in 2008.
Rest In Power, Gil Scott-Heron, you was a true Revolutionary. Your words will last forever in our hearts and soul.