Farewell GIL SCOTT-HERON, pioneer poet and godfather of rap

GIL SCOTT-HERON, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like The Revolution Will Not Be Televised made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s, has died in Manhattan.
He was 62, a longtime resident of Harlem and reportedly HIV positive.
Scott-Heron often bristled at the suggestion that his work had prefigured rap. ''I don't know if I can take the blame for it,'' he said last year. He preferred to call himself a ''bluesologist'', drawing on the traditions of blues, jazz and Harlem renaissance poetics.
Yet Scott-Heron established much of the attitude and stylistic vocabulary that would characterise the socially conscious work of early rap groups and has remained part of the DNA of hip-hop by being sampled by stars such as Kanye West.
''You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word,'' Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, told The New Yorker last year. ''He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.''
Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949, and was raised in Tennessee and New York. His mother was a librarian and teacher; his estranged father was a Jamaican soccer player.
In his early teens, Scott-Heron wrote detective stories, and his work as a writer won him a scholarship to the Fieldston School in the Bronx, where he was one of five black students in a class of 100.
Following in the footsteps of Langston Hughes, he went to the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and he wrote his first novel at 19, a murder mystery called The Vulture. Shortly thereafter, he published a book of verse, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and a second novel, The Nigger Factory, soon followed.
Working at first with a college friend, Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron turned to music to reach a wider audience. Their first album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, was released in 1970 and included a live recitation of The Revolution accompanied by conga and bongo drums.
A second version of that piece, recorded with a full band including the jazz bassist Ron Carter, was released on Scott-Heron's second album, Pieces of a Man, in 1971.
The Revolution established Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anaesthetised by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes - campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets - for four decades.
Other pieces, like New York Is Killing Me, Home Is Where the Hatred Is, Angel Dust and We Almost Lost Detroit dealt bluntly with poverty, drug addiction, racism and the lurking catastrophes in industrialised civilisation.

During the 1970s, Scott-Heron was seen as a prodigy with significant potential, although he never achieved wide popularity. He recorded 13 albums between 1970 and 1982.
By the mid-1980s, Scott-Heron had begun to fade, and in later years he struggled publicly with crack addiction. Since 2001, he had been convicted twice for cocaine possession, and he served a sentence at Rikers Island in New York for parole violation.
Despite Scott-Heron's public problems, he remained an admired figure in music, and he made occasional concert appearances and was sought after as a collaborator.
Last year he released I'm New Here, his first album of new material in 16 years, which was produced by Richard Russell, a British record producer who met Scott-Heron at Rikers Island in 2006 after writing him a letter. Reviews for the album inevitably referred to Scott-Heron as the ''godfather of rap'' but he made it clear he had different tastes.

Legendary US political poet and smart rap ancestor Gil Scott-Heron will break his World Tour to perform at this summer’s WOMAD festival. Without a doubt one of the most important voices in 20th century music, he will close the festival and enchant the crowd with tracks from his stunning new album I’m New HereFestival Director Chris Smith said “The Main stage at WOMAD is the natural home for a musical legend, the godfather of rap music who unlike so many of today’s ‘artists’ embeds powerful messages in exceptional music. It will be a highlight of this year’s festival for me.”

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