“What you? Why you keep on interrupting me? You say, my son is taking dope?
Call the law and call the doctor!
What you mean i shouldn’t scream?
My only son is taking dope?
Should I sit here like I’m pleased?
Is that familiar anybody?
Check out whats inside your head
Because it never seems to matter
when it’s Billy Green who’s dead.”
Gil Scott-Heron, “Billy Green is Dead”, 1972
Gil Scott-Heron was born April 1, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, to an American opera singer and a Jamaican-born football player. He received a full scholarship to the prestigious Fieldston School and impressed many with his candor and wit, which would eventually be reflected in his poetry and music.
After seeing the famous Last Poets perform at Lincoln University and asking one of the members if he could start a group like them, he began recording in 1970. His most well-known piece, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” was written in 1968 (was he was 19) as a spoken word poem, and released in 1970 on a small label. By 23, Gil Scott-Heron had written two novels, recorded three albums, and released a book of poems, earning him a substantial following.
His music was considered by many to be a form of “proto-rap,” influencing many who would go on to make hip-hop and rap music into a worldwide medium of social expression. Scott-Heron’s music was imbued with social consciousness and oozed revolution, providing a perfect soundtrack for the tumultuous years of the early 1970s. Listening to songs such as “The King Alfred Plan,” which covers the belief that the United States federal government was preparing to throw the entire African-American nation into concentration camps, 1940s and 1890s style; and “Billy Green is Dead,” which details the impact of heroin on the black community; one gets a sense of the times that he wrote, recorded, and lived in.
Gil Scott-Heron died on May 27, 2011, but his work remains as a testament to a revolutionary era in the history of the African-American people.