When a musician dies, there’s almost always a spike in album sales and online streaming. Fans go through their mourning phases listening to old albums and classics by them to remind them of better times. It’s just something you need to do. On May 27th, 2011, Nightly News announced that musician and spoken word poet Gil Scott-Heron had passed. My dad was a fan of his music and has seen him live when he came to the Seattle area. I’ve never heard of him, so he gave me a rundown of him and his music. He played his music more around the house, which got me into him, too.
The more I listened to him, the more and more I realized how much of an impact he’s really had on hip-hop. Gil Scott-Heron has been given the title “Grandfather of Rap.” Although he doesn’t have a hip-hop sound, he was one of the first artists to really start rapping. Much of his music is soul music or has a simple drum beat in the back. I’ve always been very drawn to socially conscious music, and that’s one of the reasons why I listen to hip-hop and rap so much. It’s also why I got into Gil Scott-Heron. Much of his music has similar content to hip-hop: social issues.
His music is also very rampant in hip-hop, more than I ever realized. In 1999, Mos Def sampled Gil Scott-Heron’s “Legend In His Own Mind” in his song featuring Q-Tip called “Mr. Nigga” off "Black on Both Sides." Even more recently, NxWorries (Anderson .Paak & Knxwledge) sampled Heron’s “The Bottle” in their song “Suede” off their 2016 album, "Yes Lawd!" Other artists like Flatbush Zombies, Kendrick Lamar, Common, The Game, Drake and Kanye West have sampled his music before. On Kanye’s 2010 album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken word “Comment #1” was sampled in “Lost In The World” and “Who Will Survive In America.” He’s constantly referenced in music, too, not just samples. In “M.F.T.R.” off Pusha T’s album "Darkest Before Dawn" he references him saying “Gil Scott-Heron to the black poem... The revolution will be televised ‘cause we done see all and they telling lies.”
Hip-hop has also left an impact on Gil Scott-Heron, as well. Before he passed away in 2011, he released his last project "I’m New Here" and sampled Kanye’s 2007 song “Flashing Lights” in “Coming From A Broken Home" (Parts 1 and 2). I’ve heard Kanye and Heron had a pretty close friendship, as he performed "Lost In The World" at his memorial service in 2011.Music is all about pop culture and what was relevant during that time period. It’s like watching SNL during the 70s -- it’s hard to get the jokes unless you know what was going on current-event and pop-culture wise back then. (Gil Scott-Heron has performed on the show). There are certain references that go completely over our heads simply because we grew up in a different generation than us. There’s a generational gap between music that leaves so many influential artists overlooked constantly. That’s how I feel about Gil Scott-Heron and his music. I wish he was credited in hip-hop more -- and there are a lot of other artists that are constantly overlooked and deserve more credit. It’s hard when you’re the guy in the background and not the face of the album.