Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron

The hip-hop revolution did indeed happen live, a revolution Scott-Heron himself helped to pioneer. The legendary poet and artist passed away May 27 at age 62 in New York City.

Dubbed the Godfather of Rap — a moniker he hated — Gil Scott-Heron laid the foundation for hip-hop and rap music by fusing spoken-word poetry with percussive beats. He hit lyrical gold with his 1970 song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," his political and social analysis of the state of media and activism in the U.S., a poem he recited with the backing of congas and bongos. He went on to release 15 albums, numerous live recordings and compilations, and influenced countless musicians, including Kanye West, who borrowed entire excerpts from Scott-Heron's early works for songs on his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Scott-Heron's health was not the best; he often spoke about his struggles with crack cocaine addiction and in 2008 suggested he might have been HIV positive. But despite these challenges he continued to create his own unique brand of art, even releasing a new album in 2010 titled I'm New Here.

But his messages of minority empowerment and political activism will live on, and appears particularly poignant in an age when revolution is flowing through the veins of so many across the world.

A version of this text originally appeared on on May 28, 2011.