Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron: 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron died Friday, May 27th, at the age of 62. He was a fiercely engaged vocalist and lyricist whose work incorporated blues, jazz, soul, and stream of consciousness poetry. Best known for his fiery spoken-word performances of the 1970s, Scott-Heron's lyrics consistently explored themes of social justice, poverty, urban violence, and race. He is frequently cited as a formative influence on the evolution of hip-hop, and his work has been sampled by such notable artists as Mos Def and De La Soul. Most recently, Kanye West built a track around Scott-Heron's voice on the chart-topping album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He addressed his elder statesman status with both pride and chagrin on the 1994 album Spirits: "We got respect for you rappers and the way you be free-weighin', but if you're gon' be teachin' folks things, make sure you know what you're sayin' ." The compilation The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is an essential sampler of his work, but his is a legacy more varied and rewarding than a single disc can afford. (My personal favorite is the 1971 album Pieces of a Man.) Scott-Heron was experiencing something of a renaissance of late, with his 2010 album I'm New Here and its 2011 remix We're New Here garnering considerable critical acclaim. As engaging and insightful as both those records are, there isn't really a better introduction to this artist's work than the pointed media critique "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised":