Some time ago, I read the article about the passing of Gil Scott-Heron. I remember thinking that I didn’t recognize that name or knew of any of his music. Well, last night on the program “UNSUNG”, they did an indept look into his life. Snippets of his music was played throughout this program and one in particular was recognizable to me, “The Bottle”, released in1974. I remember grooving to the piece, but as we all know back then and at the age of 14, the artist wasn’t that important.
Gil Scott-Heron, was very innovative with his music. He was well intuned with the happenings in the Black community. He was concerned about the lives of African-Americans and what was happening in the ghettos and how society treated and looked at us. Back when his music was being played, I was still quite young and in my community, there really weren’t any socially conscious people. Everyone looked out for their own and paid attention only to what was happening in their own home. Mr. Scott-Heron’s music takes me back to those times and wish I was a little more aware of the plight of African-Americans at that time. Sometimes, when we are not close to where things are happening, we have a tendency to think it’s not happening to us. In little ways, it was happening to us but we did not really see it or wanted to see it. We would go on with our lives, raising our children in a way that was almost parrellel to what white society dictated.
Listening to Mr. Scott-Heron’s music, you can listen two different ways. The lyrics are heart felt and true to what was happening at that time, it made you think. He wrote several books, “The Vulture”, which he wrote at 19, a book of verse, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”, and ” The Nigger Factory”. He partnered with a friend, Brian Jackson, to write music and produced his first album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”, released in 1970. The piece “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was featured on this album. Between 1970 and 1980, Scott-Heron recorded 13 albums. He later signed with Clive Davis at Arista Records in 1974. Gil Scott-Heron was called “godfather of rap”, a term he did not like. He often said he was a “bluesologist”. Many of his songs were being sampled my artists like Kanye West. The lyrics to “Whitey On The Moon”, made you question the Space Program. Here you have people here not being able to pay their bills, feed their children, or maintain a place to live but they spend millions of dollars to send someone to the moon.
His music began to fade in the mid 1980’s as he struggled with drug addiction, that later led to the use of crack. He spent time at Rikers Island in New York for cocaine possession, twice. Because of his addiction, he would spend a lot of time alone in his apartment. When he would disappear, he could be found in his apartment sleeping off the effects of smoking. A small torch could be found lying beside him on the floor while he would sit and watch old fight movies with his friend, Miss Mimi. His music represented the anger he felt towards the country and society. He was loud and uncompromising. His words will forever tell the story of the struggles in the Black community. Although, some things have changed since his early work came out, some remain the same.