Gil Scott-Heron, the poet, singer and author who rejected the title often given him as the “Godfather of Rap” because he said rap “is aimed at the kids,” has died in New York City. He was 62.
He had spent much of the last two decades battling drug addiction and in and out of prison before releasing an album last year, “I’m New Here,” that brought him something of a comeback.
Doris Nolan, a friend of Scott-Heron’s told The Associated Press, “We’re all sort of shattered.”
From his first album, “125th and Lenox,” released in 1970, Scott-Heron was a unique and powerful voice in American music.
At a time when popular music was moving away from the anthems of protest of the ’60s, Scott-Heron, with his hard-edged but somehow tender, aching voice, gave an unflinching yet poetic look at the realities of inner-city life at a time when the hopes of the civil rights movement were battered in the anger of riots and the ravages of spreading drug addiction.
That album and the follow-up, “Pieces of a Man,” resonated with college students hanging on to the activist ideals of the ’60s, but he never matched the popular success of those early songs, even though he continued to make powerful music.
His poetic, jazz fused songs influenced generations of hip-hop artists and became part of the first group of conscience-based rap songs, which he often referred to as “bluesology.”
Scott-Heron’s most influential songs, including “The Revolution Will Not be Televised,” in which he criticized mass media, and “Whitey on the Moon,” influenced rappers such as A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy.
Veteran rap artist Chuck D, one of the founders of Public Enemy, paid tribute to the artist in a tweet: “RIP GSH…and we do what we do and how we do because of you. And to those that don’t know tip your hat with a hand over your heart & recognize.”
Mos Def, who was on the same bill with Scott-Heron at the JVC Jazz Festival in 2008, told New York Magazine that he was an inspiration.
“He’s one of my heroes, an incredible source of energy, power, and truth in the world,” Mos Def said. “It’s an honor to be able to finally work with him this closely.”
Scott-Heron released more than 20 albums, and his work was included in more than 10 compilations. Also an accomplished author, Scott-Heron published six novels, one of which — a mystery called “The Vulture” — came out when he was just 19.
He became part of televison history as the musical guest during Richard Pryor’s debut on “Saturday Night Live” as its first black host.
Scott-Heron’s website features his most recent album, “I’m New Here,” his first album in 13 years.