The American jazz poet and soul musician, Gil Scott-Heron, was notable for his work as a spoken word performer during the 1970s and 1980s.
Gil Scott-Heron is often referred to as “the Godfather of rap” and is acclaimed as one of the genre’s founders. Due to the political consciousness at the root of his work, he is also viewed as being instrumental to the establishment of political rap – “Message to the Messengers” called upon future generations of rap artists and urban poets to speak for change rather than perpetuate current social situations.
Scott-Heron’s lyricism often referenced social and political issues of the time. Themes included the superficiality of mass consumerism, white America’s ignorance of deteriorating living conditions for inner-city residents, and the hypocrisy of black revolutionaries. His critically acclaimed composition, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, takes its title from a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movement and alludes to public figures, news coverage, television, and advertising.
Following Scott-Heron’s death in 2011, journalist Greg Kot commented on his style and technique:
Scott-Heron took the news of the day and transformed it into social commentary, wicked satire, and proto-rap anthems. He updated his dispatches from the front lines of the inner city on tour, improvising lyrics with an improvisational daring that matched the jazz-soul swirl of the music. Though celebrated for his political broadsides, Scott-Heron was a master of many styles. He could be playful and mischievous, and he found joy in the power of words and their ability to transform the tragic and tawdry into the comical and uplifting.