Gil Scott-Heron dies aged 62

The musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron – best known for his pioneering rap The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – has died at the age of 62, having fallen ill.

The news was broken on Twitter by Scott-Heron’s publisher and unlikely friend, Jamie Byng: “Just heard the very sad news that my dear friend and one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, the great Gil Scott-Heron, died today.”

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken word recordings helped shape the emerging hip-hop culture. Generations of rappers, including the likes of Kanye West cite his work as an influence. He was often described as the ‘Godfather of Rap’, but hated the title, preferring to describe what he did as “bluesology” – a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and jazz, all shot through with a piercing social conscience and strong political messages, tackling issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.

“If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating ‘hooks’, which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion,” Scott-Heron wrote in his 1990 Now and Then collection of poems.

Gil Scott-Heron a true genius who had to struggle through life despite such poetic gifts

Scott-Heron was HIV positive and battled drug addiction through most of his career. He spent a year and a half in prison for possession. In a 2009 interview he said that his jail term had forced him to confront the reality of his situation.

“When you wake up every day and you’re in the joint, not only do you have a problem but you have a problem with admitting you have a problem,” Scott-Heron said.

He was best known for The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the critically acclaimed recording from his first album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and for his collaborations with jazz/funk pianist and flautist Brian Jackson.

Gil Scott-Heron's 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'

‘In The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, first recorded in 1970, he issued a fierce critique of the role of race in the mass media and advertising age. “The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning or white people,” he sang.

Scott-Heron’s song ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’, written about a previous accident at a nuclear power plant, is sampled on rapper Kanye West’s single ‘The People’. Scott-Heron’s 2010 album, ‘I’m New Here’, was his first new studio release in 16 years and was hailed by critics. The album’s first song, ‘On Coming From a Broken Home, is an ode to his maternal grandmother, Lillie, who raised him in Jackson, Tennessee, until her death when he was 13. He moved to New York after that.

RIP Gil Scott-Heron

One of the true greats who you realise if you met, would be able to dazzle and amaze with stories and thoughts. I was never able to meet the genius, but his music will live on and inspire many for years…

Gil Scott-Heron

Sources: The Guardian & Twitter