May 27, 2011 2 comments
As confirmed by a spokesperson for Heron’s label, the prolific and influential poet has passed at the age of 62. Long live the revolution.
The details of Heron’s death remain unknown at this moment, but as an activist, social savant, and spoken word virtuoso for his age, I feel I speak for many when I say we have lost an irreplaceable influence.
Back in the 90′s (when I was merely a wee little lad), I had a baby-sitter named Mrs. Mary who would play Small Talk at 125th and Lenox before all of my afternoon naps. For me, it was never “Oh, that’s Gil Scott-Heron, the debut album of a magnificent poet and speaker”, it was more like “who is this old man shouting big words and stories about stuff I don’t care about when I’m trying to doze off?” Small Talk was Heron’s first LP, a landmark in the career of a man who would prove to show great philosophy amidst greater turmoil. To this day, through what I’m sure must be pure osmosis, I still know almost every word to “Whitey On The Moon”, not realizing that I was listening to the crackling voice of a fractured scribe battling poverty, racism, and a near-crippling drug addiction.
That drug addiction, in fact, would land him a three year stint in a federal prison for possession of cocaine. Around the time Heron was released, I was 12 years old, and had all but forgotten about Heron and my knowledge of his music (I think I was in my 50 Cent, fake-gangsta rap phase then), but, a few years later, a sample popped up on one of my favorite albums of all time, Kanye West’s Late Registration, and noticed a familiar voice. “My Way Home” featuring Common, was part of the late resurgence of Gil Scott-Heron in semi-mainstream music (along with Ye, Blackalicious, Black Star, MF Doom, and Q-Tip all used samples of Heron vocals), and I was instantly motivated to dig deeper into Gil’s catalog.
Spanning over 30 years, Heron’s final release was, as far as I’m concerned, just as strong as the “crackling” old debut that I’d listened to throughout some of my most vivid childhood memories. I’m New Here was released over a year ago, but Heron’s influence still carries a creative spark strong enough to warrant a critically acclaimed remix album by British artist, and member of the indie-pop band The xx, Jamie xx. Proof that, even after the prime of his most controversial and prophetic pieces, he’s still an artist that transcends genre, race, and most important of all, generation. R.I.P Mr. Heron, you will survive in America… For as long as your music endures.