Gil Scott Heron, who recently passed away has received obituaries filled with praise for his poetic lyrics on the harshness of ghetto life and the overriding racism and basic unfairness of African-American life as well as the rich jazzy arrangements of his 70’s records (his best period collaborating with his arranger Brian Jackson) such as PIECES OF A MAN and WINTER IN AMERICA .
This is all deserved as Heron was a great songwriter who spoke of the black urban experience in America, the ghetto experience, with raw honesty and without any sense of creating a mythology or otherwise obscuring the message.
However, there is one slant that many writers are taking which is that Heron was “the Godfather of Rap” This is an example of lazy journalism finding the first angle you can think of and making it fit. Here’s a quote from Heron about rap music....
They need to study music. I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humor. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing
Personally I don’t see much in common with Heron and rap music except they both come from the same place and Heron was also a spoken word poet (which is very different from what rap has turned into).
Many years ago, there was a strain of thought among African-American writers that rap was like Amos n Andy, that it was a new minstrel show, showing black people in damaging stereotypes. Unfortunately, this type of thinking seems to have died out.
Gil Scott Heron RIP