Gil Scott Heron was a man who until recently was wrapped up in the troubles of drug abuse and and imprisonment, but like the phoenix from the ashes came back to produce yet another wonderful piece of work with his album “I’m New Here”.
Providing inspiration to a new generation and spawning the remix album from Jamie XX, Gil Scott Heron was back where he belonged, at the forefront of popular culture.
Sadly, Gil Scott Heron died yesterday evening aged 62 in a New York City hospital after falling ill following a trip to Europe.
A tragic early end to a life that has influenced so many people.
He was born in Chicago in 1949 but was brought up in the southern state Tennessee. The political dimensions of growing up in the USA dominated by the unspoken effects of an effectual Apartheid regime, influenced much of his most famous early works as a poet and musician. He dealt with many political issues such as poverty, consumerism, media, homophobia and racism.
Beginning with his now famous style of his marriage of the spoken word, poetry and percussive music. As an innovator his style progressed with more conventional musicianship through which he developed his style.
As with many other artists in his tradition, drugs also became an experimentation which eventually, at least from time to time, consumed his life. He spent much of the previous decade in and out of prison, for the possession of illegal drugs.
It was all the more remarkable that after 16 years without recording an album, he came back with the excellent “I’m New Here”. This album carried much critical acclaim throughout the music press and will no doubt be another piece of work that will stand the test of time.
In his lifetime he managed to produce 15 studio albums, 9 Live albums and countless compilations, along with 6 books, one of which is still to be published. He was also a consummate live performer.
To coin an over used phrase, his work will live on way past his untimely death. As an innovator with the spoken word, he is also regularly given the label the “Godfather of Rap”. It is widely recognised that his fusion of poetry and music within the popular culture framework and the subject matter of his works influenced the now mainstream Rap and Hip Hop artists. His work of the early 1970’s clearly influenced the fledgling Rap artists in the mid to late 1970’s that led to its worldwide popularity today.
A very sad day to hear the end to such a rich and interesting life, but perhaps another excuse to relive the wonderful works of a man who influenced so many, pushed the boundaries of music, and gave inspiration and pleasure to millions.
R.I.P. Gil Scott Heron 1949-2011