The Poet Who Formed Hip-Hop – Part 2

As spoken word poetry evolved into what we know today as hip-hop through fans and innovators of the time, Gil Scott-Heron’s original style did not come obsolete. Now appealing not only to his original crowd of blues and jazz listeners but also being ingested by R&B fans, his single Angel Dust reached number 15 in their charts in 1978. All the while Gil was still active in the street movements that were averse to many of the changes that were occurring in America. Using his music as a symbol of protest alongside like-minded revolutionaries at the time. He played in the iconic arena of Madison Square Garden to protest the use of nuclear energy, which had recently caused disaster in the incident on Three Mile Island. Similarly, several years later he appeared on the Artists United Against Apartheid album in which he spoke about the hypocrisy of America, and how it assumed it was so much more equal on the su
bject of race relations.

As the music scene altered and hip-hop became a cultural phenomenon that spread over both coasts of the states, other rappers became the focus point as the current voice of the generation. Despite essentially being the founder of this new style, Scott-Heron was not enamored with every new iteration that formed out of this new breed of poetry. After taking some time out from recording in the mid ‘80s Heron signed to TVT Records in 1993, here he released a track titles ‘Message To The Messengers’. This was an unquestionable criticism of rappers who broke away from the message that he had spent his career trying to put across. The Gangster rappers often spoke about violence and often glorified shootings, which is the opposite of what Scott-Heron was trying to achieve, despite his anti-authority and blunt delivery being the seed for the genre. “The first sign is peace,” he says carefully, going on to explain how those “Gun toting brothers” are not only perpetuating the stereotype of inner-city thugs but also killing their own kind, which he ensures them is part of the enemy’s plan. While humbly appreciating the kind words he had received, he goes on to advise future storytellers to “Protect your community and spread that respect around.”

From here Gil Scott-Heron took a great hiatus. As hip-hop grew from strength to strength and worked its way seamlessly into pop music, Gil struggled with a drug addiction. Sentenced in 2001 for possession of Cocaine, the very drug that had destroyed communities of black folk in his early years, he did some time. The early 2000’s saw the now elderly artist in constant bouts with the law meanwhile his overall health was questioned by those close by. He returned with a new record in 2010 titled I’m New Here. This comeback record that broke a 16-year silence was critically acclaimed due to its concise intimacy. A remix album was soon released after, where Musician Jamie XX added electronic music to back Gil’s vocals, bringing the master into the ears of younger audiences once again.

Sadly 2 months later Gil Scott-Heron died due to complications exacerbated by him being HIV positive. Kanye West, who’s track was sampled on I’m New Here performed at the funeral. And so, poetry and Hip-Hop completed its first long, rough and inspirational loop.