(BlackDoctor.org) — Gil Scott-Heron, widely considered one of the godfathers of rap with his piercing social and political prose, died on March 27, 2011 at the age of 62, after becoming ill following a trip to Europe. While the cause of death was undisclosed, his battle with cocaine was well known.
Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949 and was raised in Jackson, TN., as well as in New York, before attending college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of “The Vulture,” a murder mystery. He came to prominence in the 1970s as black America was grappling with the violent losses of some of its most promising leaders and what seemed to many to be the broken promises of the civil rights movement.
Scott-Heron was known for work that reflected the fury of black America in the post-civil rights era and spoke to the social and political disparities in the country. His songs often had incendiary titles – “Home is Where the Hatred Is” or “Whitey on the Moon” – and through spoken word and song he tapped the frustration of the masses.
Though he was never a mainstream artist, he was an influential voice – so much so that his music was considered to be a precursor of rap and he influenced generations of hip-hop artists that would follow. When asked, however, he typically downplayed his integral role in the foundation of the genre.
“It’s winter in America, and all of the healers have been killed or been betrayed,” lamented Scott-Heron in the song “Winter in America.”
Scott-Heron recorded the song that would make him famous, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which critiqued mass media, for the album “125th and Lenox” in Harlem in the 1970s. He followed up that recording with more than a dozen albums, collaborating mostly with musician Brian Jackson.
In later years, he would become known more for his battle with drugs such as crack cocaine than his music. His addiction led to stints in jail and a general decline: In a 2008 interview with New York magazine, he said he had been living with HIV for years, but he still continued to perform and put out music; his last album, which came out this year, was a collaboration with artist Jamie xx, “We’re Still Here,” a reworking of Scott-Heron’s acclaimed “I’m New Here,” which was released in 2010.
In December 2010, Scott-Heron was in Washington for a performance at Blues Alley in Georgetown. He performed and toured until his death, releasing a new album in 2010 entitled “I’m New Here,” his first album after a 16-year break from recording.
In a 2010 interview with Fader magazine, Scott-Heron admitted he “could have been a better person. That’s why you keep working on it.”
“If we meet somebody who has never made a mistake, let’s help them start a religion. Until then, we’re just going to meet other humans and help to make each other better.”