The Poet Who Formed Hip-Hop – Part 1

In the city of Chicago in 1949, footballer Gil Heron and Bobbie-Scott Heron had a baby boy – Gilbert Scott Heron. An unsuspecting black boy in the centre of an overcrowded city, born at a time when race relations were tentative at best, obviously there were no expectations of anything grand. For African Americans in this time, just getting by was victory enough, but Gil Scott Heron was different. Growing up he became influenced by the arts and equality for black people. Perfectly the Black Arts Movement was on the rise and thus a cyclical input and output of creativity was formed.

Known widely for his music career it wasn’t until 1970 that Gil began his recording career. Small Talk At 125th And Lenox was his first LP which featured his iconic style of spoken word poetry with jazz. After the introduction, his now globally recognised track The Revolution Will Not Be Televised set the record off to a captivating start. This piece performed over drums, flute and bass is crammed full of cultural references of the time. Mentioning everything from Heroin, Richard Nixon, Steve McQueen, Television network NBC and cartoon character Bullwinkle, this track is purposefully crammed with imagery. Jam-packed with advertising slogans and throwing in huge names is a Scott-Herons clever way of satirising the growing consumerism and marketing of the time. All the while keeping the conversation about blacks versus whites on the tip of his tongue. On his next release Pieces Of A Man, the track was re-issued with different backing thanks to his friend and long time collaborator Brian Jackson who he had met at university.

His next few releases would continue to tackle the themes of inequality, focusing on how the struggles of inner-city blacks was largely ignored by the rest of the nation. His poetry became a staple of the upcoming revolution as his deep cutting words and powerful delivery made for remarkable listening. What’s even more incredible about Gil’s spoken word style is that at the time he was executing his poetry with new lyrical athletics, the world of rap had not formed yet. Today Gil-Scott Heron is often paraded as the ‘Godfather of Hip-Hop’ and many top-ranking artists including Lupe Fiasco, Chuck D and Kanye West mark him not only as an influence, but as a linchpin in the history of the musical style.

Often times noted as Proto-Rap, this jazz backed, slam poet was on course to birth an entire genre of word-focused music that is still sought after today. No doubt related to the fact that he was intensely outspoken about the life of people of colour and the way that their country had shunned them. He encouraged communities to band together and to support one another and talked in great detail about day-to-day strife and the workarounds blacks had to deal with in order to survive. He talked about drugs, about crooked authorities and about the reality of life in poverty – All of which were prominent features in the aggressive counter culture style known as gangster rap.