So much of the music we listen to today would be unrecognisable without the influence of poet, rapper, author and soul singer Gil Scott-Heron, who passed away this weekend. His passing was all the more sad as Gil had just forced himself back into the public consciousness with I’m New Here, an album that drew admiration from all sides.
It is difficult to do justice to, or to trace exactly how much rap or hip-hop owes to Gil, but the opening and closing tracks of I’m New Here, the deeply personal “On Coming From A Broken Home 1” and “On Coming From A Broken Home 2,” provide a good way of looking at the cross-pollination and creativity of the genre that Gil sparked. They take a sample from one of the Kanye West’s better pieces of production, “Flashing Lights,” and turn the volume down so it bubbles in the background to accompany Gil’s words.
That Kanye production builds upon a Curtis Mayfield beat, who had himself carved out a socially conscious voice in the 1960s. And Kanye had already made his admiration for Gil explicit by sampling the beautiful “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” from Pieces Of A Man to create one of the highlights of his Late Registration album.
According to Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute, Gil’s most famous track, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was inspired by a line of poetry. The genesis of that song came from black activist and poet Oyewole: “When the revolution comes, some of us will probably catch it on TV/ With chicken hanging out of our mouths.” Gil took that sentiment and provided some levity with his deconstruction of the culture of television. He told Rob Fitzpatrick in 2010 that the song was in part intended to be satire. However it was intended, it has assumed a significance beyond its immediate subject matter.
I’m New Here was an album that few thought would be made at all. It had been many years since Gil had recorded as he struggled with a series of addictions. The man who had for so long chronicled the pitfalls of drugs found himself living in crackhouses and facing jail. Listening to his early dissection of…