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Music / Gil Scott-Heron

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Who will survive in America!?

Gilbert Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011) was an American poet who rose to prominence during The '70s when he released readings of his poetry on record, accompanied by congas and bongo drums. This gave these albums the same repeated listenability as regular music. The man was praised for his political and social consciousness. He addressed both racial and social problems within the United States, as elsewhere. He criticized Ronald Reagan's politics, as well as the Apartheid system in South Africa.

Scott-Heron's importance within the Afro-American and black consciousness movement can't be overstated. He is regarded as a lyricist and Protest Song writer on the same level as Bob Dylan. Together with The Last Poets, he is also seen as a precursor to Hip-Hop, because his beat poetry backed by a musical background is very similar to the later practice of rappers doing the same over a sample. As a result he has been cited as an inspirational hero to rappers as diverse as Public Enemy, Usher, Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West who all refer to him as "the godfather of rap". Naturally, Scott-Heron's voice is Sampled Up to this day by Conscious Hip Hop and Political Rap artists.

His Greatest Hits Album The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1974) compiles all the best tracks from his previous albums and has become a Cult Classic. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2005. The album title has become so iconic that most people might not even be aware of its origin. Even here on TV Tropes it inspired no less than five(!) punny titles: The Resolution Will Not Be Identified, The Revolution Will Not Be Bureaucratized, The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified.


Scott-Heron's work provides examples of

  • Badass Preacher: His delivery is similar to a sermon, but very cool.
  • B-Movie: "B-Movie", where Scott-Heron compares living in Ronald Reagan's America to "starring in a B-movie".
    The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can - even if it's only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse - or the man who always came to save America at the last moment - someone always came to save America at the last moment - especially in "B" movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at -like a "B" movie.
  • Book Ends: Winter in America begins and ends with different versions of the song "Peace Go With You Brother," the second much shorter than the first.
  • Career Resurrection: After a 16-year hiatus owing to personal and legal issues regarding drug addiction, he reemerged with I'm New Here an album which re-established him one year before his death.
  • Conscious Hip Hop and Political Rap: Scott-Heron's recordings are considered to be a precursor of politically and socially conscious hip hop despite his own ambivalence towards the genre.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Listen to that voice, brothers!
  • Cool Shades: On the album cover of "Reflections" (1981).
  • Crapsack World: The very reason Scott-Heron started writing poetry.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Home Is Where The Hatred" is about an Addled Addict trying to quit, and "The Bottle" follows several characters whose lives were ruined by alcoholism.
  • The Golden Age of Hip Hop: He is seen as proto-hiphop, but despite his influence on the genre, Scott-Heron was very critical of a lot of rappers, whom he saw as people who didn't focus on a good balance between vocal delivery and music enough and did more posing than actually engaging in action.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Scott-Heron didn't shy away from addressing the problems in his home country.
  • New Sound Album: I'm New Here, which moved away from the jazz-funk sound and agitprop lyrics in favor of a minimalist, electronic sound and more personal, introverted lyrics.
  • Protest Song: Virtually every track he ever recorded was a protest song.
  • Rebellious Spirit: He has become an icon to the Afro-American empowerment movement.
  • Remix Album: Two, We're New Here with Jamie xx and We're New Again, a "reimagining" by jazz saxophonist Makaya McCraven.
  • Sampling: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" has been sampled by Public Enemy on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Kanye West on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
  • Self-Deprecation: Didn't put on airs about his singing:
    This is called "The Vulture" and a lot of people think it's a poem. And after they hear me sing it, they're sure it's a poem.
  • '70s Hair: An Afro. Probably not a funny one, but perhaps an ass-kicking one.
  • Spoken Word in Music: He mostly recited his poetry instead of singing it, but it still came across as singing, because of the musical accompaniment in the background.
  • Take That!: "B-Movie" was aimed at Ronald Reagan's administration. "H20 Gate Blues" is a diatribe about Richard Nixon.