The first full-length biography of the legendary poet/musician famous for his socially conscious lyrics.
A revered figure of both hip-hop and the counterculture, Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was an artist who defied easy classification. Born in Chicago but raised predominately in the small town of Jackson, Tennessee, Scott-Heron experienced firsthand the hypocrisy of segregation and the blues’ “pathos and gut-wrenching emotional honesty,” which would provide him with a rhythm to which to set his evocative lyrics. International Business Times managing editor Baram, who knew his subject during his life, claims that Scott-Heron’s unique style “would emphasize certain words on certain beats, anticipating by a decade the revolution of hip-hop.” Though indebted to blues, his two major influences were Langston Hughes and John Coltrane. Scott-Heron had always considered himself a writer who used music as a way to perform his poetry, and it was Coltrane’s vision and drive that inspired Scott-Heron to focus on his writing. While at Lincoln University, Scott-Heron transformed from a somewhat reserved though passionate observer to an outspoken advocate of social justice. His music reflected this change in the narratives he sang of ghetto life, such as “The Bottle,” as well his bitter critique of American culture and power, “Winter in America.” The polemical “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” would define his career, though Scott-Heron often harangued its misinterpretation, despite licensing the song to Nike. Scott-Heron sought to raise awareness of and legitimize the black experience in America, only to witness the malaise and apathy of the late 1970s erode the progressive spirit that inspired him. He continued to record, but without longtime friend and collaborator Brian Jackson, his sales and critical reception waned. Retreating into a severe cocaine addiction, resulting in several arrests and jail sentences, Scott-Heron made a final recording in 2010 before dying in 2011.
Controversial and enigmatic, the tragic trajectory of Scott-Heron’s life and career is expertly examined in this testament to one of the last great radical artists.