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May 31, 2011  | by: Vivian Dai

Poet Gil Scott-Heron

On May 27th, news broke that Gil Scott-Heron, known by many as the “Godfather of Rap”, had passed away. The influential author, poet, activist, and musician not only challenged audiences in times of social turbulence, but also gave rise to the beginnings of the Hip-Hop and neo soul music genres. Throughout his career, which continued right up until his death, he blended spoken word, instruments, beats, and vocals to produce soulful and satirical songs that challenged our culture and society.

But it was one of his earliest recordings from 1970, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, for which he is most remembered. On it, accompanied by bongo drums, he speaks out against racism, the media, and war and urges people to change their attitudes and minds. Over the years, allusions to this powerful song have appeared in pop culture and other artists’ music. Gil Scott-Heron’s 13th and last studio album, I’m New Here, was released last year at the heels of a period of drug addiction. The album was met with overall very favorable reviews.

Countless musical artists and writers have also cited him as a huge influence on their work. Indeed, many Hip-Hop songs even sample his music and spoken word. Kanye West’s latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, closes with “Who Will Survive in America”, which samples Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1”. Common, Tupac, and MF Doom, among others, have also featured portions of his work, which often addressed issues of race and class.

Following his death, celebrities from all different industries took to the Internet to honor his accomplishments and passion. Eminem recognized him as having “influenced all of Hip-Hop,” while Usher declared, “The revolution will be live!” Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wrote that “in essence, he gave us Hip-Hop,” while comedienne Sarah Silverman saluted the poet who “mirrored ugliness with beauty, audacity, and valor.”

Gil Scott-Heron’s legacy extends further than just musical innovation. Those inspired by him will remember, too, his fierce spirit and pushes to fight for equality, freedom, and harmony.

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