Gil Scott Heron died aged 62 on May 27th of an illness he picked up whilst travelling aroung Europe.
Like many of my era who attended Blues, Soul and Jazz Funk parties back in the mid - late 80's, i was introduced to Gil's work after dropping foot and sweating profusely to 'The Bottle'. The rhythmic kick of the bass drum and snare, the repetetive keys riff and the free flying, dancing sounds of flautist and long time collaborator Brian Jackson, all topped by Gil's flowing, emotive vocals. First time i heard it, i went nuts, we all went nuts and people still go nuts when they hear it today. That was just the beginning of my journey up this musical mountain. There are too many great songs from his catalogue for me to pick a favourite. 'We almost lost Detroit', 'It's your world', 'New York is killing me' and 'The Revolution will not be televised' are just a few of many that have made an impression on me. You only have to look through the untold scrolls of tributes from the general public, to artists, politicians, musicians etc etc, the love and appreciation goes on and on; watch out for television and radio tributes aplenty.
Gil Scott Heron was widely regarded within the Hip-Hop/Rap world as the 'Godfather of Rap', a moniker he apparently hated. There are tributes from the likes of Chuck D, Mos Def, Eminem, Talib Kweli and Snoop Dogg who all cite him as a major influence. He certainly laid down the template for such artists.
Poet, novelist, singer, songwriter, musician, political agitator, inventor of rap music, maybe? His own worst enemy in latter years, definately. He released the major body of his work between 1970 and the early 80's, picking up his recording career again in 1990 and onwards, culminating in the release of 'I'm new here' in 2010 and the follow up remix album by Jamie XX, 'We're new here'.
As with many in life, Gil Scott Heron has lived his fair share of trauma. Coming from a broken home as a child, he seemed to break free of the ghetto and made a living preaching through his music to Americas black communities, to take control, be proud and break the cycle. Unfortunately, he fell into the same trap he warned against just halfway through his career. Crippled by artistic impotence, he spiralled into a life of drug addiction. Arrests and jail time followed for drug possession. At the time of his death, Gil was also HIV positive.
Of all the tributes i have read over the last few days, i liked these words from Richard Russell, founder of XL records. As well as releasing both albums, he helped produce 'I'm new here' and conceived the idea for the remix album 'We're new here'.
"Gil was not perfect in his own life. But neither is anyone else. And he judged no one. He had a fierce intelligence, and a way with words which was untouchable; an incredible sense of humour and a gentleness and humanity that was unique to him." On the trappings of fame, Richard says; "He could have had all those things. But he was greater than that. He seemed wholly uninterested in money. His talent was immense. He was a master lyricist, singer, orator and keyboard player. His spirit was immense. He channelled something that people derived huge benefit from."
As sombre as i feel at the passing of this bonafide legend, i will take the music and the memories and keep playing them over and over and over . . . . . .