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Gil Scott-Heron

One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron's aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Born in Chicago but transplanted to Tennessee for his early years, Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand many of the experiences that later made up his songwriting material. He had begun writing before reaching his teenage years, however, and completed his first volume of poetry at the age of 13. Though he attended college in Pennsylvania, he dropped out after one year to concentrate on his writing career and earned plaudits for his novel, The Vulture.

Encouraged at the end of the '60s to begin recording by legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele -- who had worked with every major jazz great from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane -- Scott-Heron released his 1970 debut, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, inspired by a volume of poetry of the same name. With Thiele's Flying Dutchman Records until the mid-'70s, he signed to Arista soon after and found success on the R&B charts. Though his jazz-based work of the early '70s was tempered by a slicker disco-inspired production, Scott-Heron's message was as clear as ever on the Top 30 single "Johannesburg" and the number 15 hit "Angel Dust." Silent for almost a decade, after the release of his 1984 single "Re-Ron," the proto-rapper returned to recording in the mid-'90s with a message for the gangsta rappers who had come in his wake; Scott-Heron's 1994 album Spirits began with "Message to the Messengers," pointed squarely at the rappers whose influence -- positive or negative -- meant much to the children of the 1990s.

In a touching bit of irony that he himself was quick to joke about, Gil Scott-Heron was born on April Fool's Day 1949 in Chicago, the son of a Jamaican professional soccer player (who spent time playing for Glasgow Celtic) and a college-graduate mother who worked as a librarian. His parents divorced early in his life, and Scott-Heron was sent to live with his grandmother in Lincoln, TN. Learning musical and literary instruction from her, Scott-Heron also learned about prejudice firsthand, as he was one of three children picked to integrate an elementary school in nearby Jackson. The abuse proved too much to bear, however, and the eighth-grader was sent to New York to live with his mother, first in the Bronx and later in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chelsea.

Though Scott-Heron's experiences in Tennessee must have been difficult, they proved to be the seed of his writing career, as his first volume of poetry was written around that time. His education in the New York City school system also proved beneficial, introducing the youth to the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes as well as LeRoi Jones. After publishing a novel called The Vulture in 1968, Scott-Heron applied to Pennsylvania's Lincoln University. Though he spent less than one year there, it was enough time to meet Brian Jackson, a similarly minded musician who would later become a crucial collaborator and integral part of Scott-Heron's band. Given a bit of exposure -- mostly in magazines like Essence, which called The Vulture "a strong start for a writer with important things to say" -- Scott-Heron met up with Bob Thiele and was encouraged to begin a music career, reading selections from his book of poetry Small Talk at 125th & Lennox while Thiele recorded a collective of jazz and funk musicians, including bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Hubert Laws on flute and alto saxophone, and percussionists Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders; Scott-Heron also recruited Jackson to play on the record as pianist. Most important on the album was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," an aggressive polemic against the major media and white America's ignorance of increasingly deteriorating conditions in the inner cities. Scott-Heron's second LP, 1971's Pieces of a Man, expanded his range, featuring songs such as the title track and "Lady Day and John Coltrane," which offered a more straight-ahead approach to song structure (if not content).

The following year's Free Will was his last for Flying Dutchman, however; after a dispute with the label, Scott-Heron recorded Winter in America for Strata East, then moved to Arista Records in 1975. As the first artist signed to Clive Davis' new label, much was riding on Scott-Heron to deliver first-rate material with a chance at the charts. Thanks to Arista's more focused push on the charts, Scott-Heron's "Johannesburg" reached number 29 on the R&B charts in 1975. Important to Scott-Heron's success on his first two albums for Arista (First Minute of a New Day and From South Africa to South Carolina) was the influence of keyboardist and collaborator Jackson, co-billed on both LPs and the de facto leader of Scott-Heron's Midnight Band.

Jackson left by 1978, though, leaving the musical direction of Scott-Heron's career in the capable hands of producer Malcolm Cecil, a veteran producer who had midwifed the funkier direction of the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder earlier in the decade. The first single recorded with Cecil, "The Bottle," became Scott-Heron's biggest hit yet, peaking at number 15 on the R&B charts, though he still made no waves on the pop charts. Producer Nile Rodgers of Chic also helped on production during the 1980s, when Scott-Heron's political attack grew even more fervent with a new target, President Ronald Reagan. (Several singles, including the R&B hits "B Movie" and "Re-Ron," were specifically directed at the President's conservative policies.) By 1985, however, Scott-Heron was dropped by Arista, just after the release of The Best of Gil Scott-Heron. Though he continued to tour around the world, Scott-Heron chose to discontinue recording. He did return, however, in 1993 with a contract for TVT Records and the album Spirits. For well over a decade, Scott-Heron was mostly inactive, held back by a series of drug possession charges. He began performing semi-regularly in 2007, and one year later, announced that he was HIV-positive. He recorded an album, I'm New Here, released on XL in 2010. In February of 2011, Scott-Heron and Jamie xx (Jamie Smith of xx) issued a remixed version of the album, entitled We're New Here, also issued on XL. Later that year, Scott-Heron died in a New York hospital, just after returning from a set of live dates in Europe. ~ John Bush, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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iown2gorilla s
GSH wasn't even from this universe, he was from another astral dimension existence. ...the best ever.
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GSH was deep
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alexclindsay
I personally met GSH in Bpt., CT in my middle school year 1975, (via my guidance counselor Mr. Lee) and he has and will not leave my mind, soul, heart, love ya in my life now and later!!!! ACLindsay
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Will never be another. Thank for your words and music that have helped shape who I am.
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Olds school all the way!!!
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noevaw1
These two Great Talent!
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Awesome talent...... . . . . . . . .
He spoke nothing but the TRUTH!!!!
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jtny786
Work for Peace, my favorite. GSH was so deep, his words still ring, the military and the monetary, nobody can do everything but everyone can do something! I started listening to Gil when I was 19, I'm 60 now and the brother's work has still got it going on, maybe more than ever. Love, Brother!
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Gil scott heron there lot of ways we can talk about such a person but were to start, he was a master of words and put them in places they should be and coming
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The best rapper of all time, political
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Reno, everything you said is spot on. Thanks man, especially the part about people thinking you're a hater because you dare to criticize what is foul about how we humans do. Our only crime is that we care.
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Jst as true today as bck then
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jtny786
Oh, Gil, we still need you now. This could be the anthem for Ferguson, MO. Message to the Messengers. Rest in peace, brother. For the rest of us, no justice no peace.
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From Detroit with LOVE! Boy oh Boy is this needed to be heard in our communities throughout the World! This is classic, and just to think that people today who have been dumbed down so bad would think he a Hater! How sad and ignorant this society has become. Timeless piece of historical classic right here. Rest in Peace Gil Scott Heron!
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SPEAKS THE TRUTH!!!!!!! ! .
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Long live gsh
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One of the Best Gil's album was Real Eyes" Train from Washington love it.
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You will be missed.
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There was no one more real.....
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A very important cultural icon. My hero and a true visionary. RIP Gil.
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The man is an unsung hero in my eyes. One of the most expressive artists in the fabric of American culture. He told stories about a real American experience often times he told stories which were painful and close to the skin which made folks uncomfortabl e . I can always hear it in his voice. A sense of drama and seriousness which one could understand as his work was not derivative, but a journey of the righteous soul.
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Thank You LORD for G S-H and for every brother to express yourself. 14y
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i12bdebtfree
while in college, I saw brother Gil Scott-Heron in concert at U.T. Knoxville in 1983, about two months after I had been pulled over by a local officer of the law and asked boy, where you goin? I wondered if my Michigan tags prompted the stop... lesson learned, change comes much slower for some...
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i12bdebtfree
I love the fact that he was courageous enough to speak truth...even when most people were uncomfortabl e looking in the mirror. Peace go with you Brother.
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Loved Scott-Heron for more than 40 years. Pieces of a Man- the saddest lyrics ever written. And who could forget 'and it might not be such a bad idea if I never, if I never went home again.'
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MET GIL IN DC BLUES ALLEY BEEN FAN FOR LONGEST RIP BROTHER JOSE COMPOS TORREZ!!!
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He's annoying
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I was young my uncles let me here gil I never looked back gil rest my brother we love you miss you let god here what you got to say he can make the change
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words that tell the tale that would not be told..but could NOT..HIDE..i n America..
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Truth...Thin k , L i s t e n , L i v e , D o n ' t Forget.
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We miss you Gil
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jamcityjive
I'll never forget the first time I met Gil at the 9:30 Club in 2008. He was so humble a human being, but with all his wisdom in what he stood for and his legendary musical reputation, it was tough for me to not feel shy in his presence. His music is about as soulful and truthful as music could ever be. When he passed away the world lost a truly remarkable man, who could never be equaled in all he meant to the people who appreciated him and his work. Stay Strong, Stay Healthy, Stay Free.
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The very frist time I heard his music I was in love with his seeking of truth. In the course of life and living, his words touch my every day life even today. I make every attempt to direct the change rather than go through the change...cha n g e s life hands us daily. In my travels, I've seen him on stage from VA, DC to Conn to CA and loved every minute of it.

Rest in Peach brother, you've earned it.
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There is no otha way to put it but, REAL, the BROTHA is real,intella g e n t , n inspirationa l . Its a beautiful part of life when u no exactly who u are. Nevermind wut they have to say as long as u no das all dat damnit matters
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xlilcriscox
Speaks the truth!
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Strong, powerful and moving. Hearing his word altered my perception of the world.
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Once you heard Brother Gil music you know he was a Black Man in tune with people's struggles World Wide especially on the home front. He educated those that listen. Peace go with you Brother. AKK.
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bettyboopy4l i f e
Good music right here, wish I grew up around this time
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Mr. Heron was a master. I met him on 8th avenue and 14th street when I was in High school , 1974. We were playing hooky from Charles Evans Hughes high school and asked him, a stranger to go in the liquor store on the corner of 8th Avenue and 18th street to buy us a botle of wine because we were under age. Instead he gave us an ablum (The Revolution will not be televised. After listening to the ablum my awareness about the social climate of America changed forever. I miss the Brother so much
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cotk61255
I was a teen when I first heard Gil. At first I thought he was just mad at the world but as I aged I realized he was not totally mad but teaching ME and anyone else who would listen. In a movie, a famous statement was made, YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH. Gil knew that long before the movie. He stated, The Revolution will NOT be Televised and as I have continued to age I can firmly say that he hasn't lied about anything yet. His music is as true today as it was then. I miss him so much but I have be
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This is Peace.
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Gil scott Heron could always take us to and from ALL THE PLACES we've been!!!
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Their will never be another one that will even come close to Mr. Gil Scott-Heron in way of the music or the porem .im not saying that to Dis anybody .He just had his way of singing those word in a song. R.I.P. Brother U will be MISSED!!! Your brother PRATT
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Gil Scott-Heron will never be forgotten!!
Peace!
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Gil said it all. There is nothing left to say.
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Classic
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Love u Gil...rip brotha c u on the other side. Peace
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Helped keep my head to the sky in 1970s military
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What a superb FLASHBACK
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That Heron
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