“Me and the Devil”, the final masterpiece recorded before Gil Scott-Heron passed away, sums up all the class, irony, dark humor, and drama of a poet whose greatness we must never underestimate. Born in Chicago on 1st April 1949, he is said to be one of rap’s greatest influencers. Chuck D expressed deep sadness at his passing and Ghostface Killah’s reaction to the announcement of his death on 27th May 2011 was, ‘Salute Gil Scott-Heron for his wisdom and poetry! May he rest in paradise.’ The record had only recently been released. While Scott-Heron was imprisoned at Rikers Island on drugs charges, the boss of label XL Recordings had managed to convince him to take up the microphone once more and record an album, after 16 years away. This return to the fore, accompanied by young hipsters from the electro scene, was to be his requiem.
In his music we can find all the woes of blues and soul. Funk and jazz too – that of Billie Holliday and Coltrane whom he hails with “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”. The ‘new black poet’ as he described himself on his first album, always chose the right targets – the left-wing African-American bourgeoisie; the suburban consumerism of middle America; the dangers of nuclear power evoked in the ballad “We Almost Lost Detroit”; gun-lovers, to whom he speaks in a raw voice on “B Movie” – a long indictment of ‘Ronald Ray Gun’. He never forgot to honour his elders (‘Grandma’s Hand’ borrowed from Bill Withers as a tribute to the woman who raised him) or to warn future generations (‘Save The Children’). Let’s not forget ‘The Bottle’, with its stratospheric rhythm and the flying flute of Brian Jackson (with whom the poet would co-write a range of magnificent pieces), an SOS, warning that when people are drowning in addiction all they want is to forget. Absolutely not – the revolution will not be televised!