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Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. by Greg Tate

Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. by Greg Tate

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Published by Rbg Street Scholar
Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. by Greg Tate
Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. by Greg Tate

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Published by: Rbg Street Scholar on Jul 10, 2012
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Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. By Greg Tate
Gil Scott-Heron died on Friday. He was 62You know why Gil never had much love for that ill-conceived Godfather of Raptag. If you're already your own genre, you don't need the weak currency offered byanother. If you're a one-off, why would you want to bask in the reflected glory of knock-offs? If you're already Odin, being proclaimed the decrepit sire of Thor andLoki just ain't gonna rock your world.Gil knew he wasn't bigger than hip-hop
 — 
he knew he was just better. Like Jimiwas better than heavy metal, Coltrane better than bebop, Malcolm better than theNation of Islam, Marley better than the King James Bible. Better as in deeper
 — 
emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, politically, ancestrally, hell, probably evengenetically. Mama was a Harlem opera singer; papa was a Jamaican footballer(rendering rolling stone redundant); grandmama played the blues records inKentucky. So grit shit and mother wit Gil had in abundance, and like any AriesMan worth his saltiness he capped it off with flavor, finesse and a funky gypsyattitude.
Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P.
By Greg Tate, Tue., May 31 2011
 
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Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. By Greg Tate
He was also better in the sense that any major brujo who can stand alone alwaysimpresses more than those who need an army in front of them to look bad, jumpbad, and mostly have other people to do the killing. George Clinton once said SlyStone's interviews were better than most cats' albums; Gil clearing his throatcoughed up more gravitas than many gruff MCs' tuffest 16 bars. Being a bona fidegriot and Orisha-ascendant will do that; being a truth-teller, soothsayer, word-magician, and acerbic musical op-ed columnist will do that. Gil is who and whatRakim was really talking about when he rhymed, "This is a lifetime mission: visiona prison." Shouldering the task of carrying Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, PaulRobeson and The Black Arts Movement's legacies into the 1970s world of African-American popular song will do that too. The Revolution came and went so fast onApril 4, 1968, that even most Black people missed it. (Over 100 American cities upin flames the night after King's murder
 — 
what else do you think that was? The DayAfter The Revolution has been everything that's shaped America's racial profileever since, from COINTELPRO to
Soul Train
, crack to krunk, bling to Barack.)Gil, a student of radical history and politics, knew that if you were charged withthe duties of oracle, troubadour, poet, gadfly, muckraker, and grassroots shit-talker,your job was to ride the times (and the
Times
) like Big rode beats, to provoke thestate and the streets, to progress your own radical headspace. Many cats of Gil'sgeneration became burnt-out anachronisms from trying to wage '60s battles on '70sbattlegrounds; some are still at it today. Gil knew The Struggle was a work-in-progress
 — 
a scorecard event of win-some-lose-some, lick your wounds, live tofight another day. Keep your eyes on the prize
 — 
a more Democratic union
 — 
butalso on the ever-changing same. Keep it progressive but keep it moving too. Not sodifficult if you're the type of self-medicating brother who gets lonely if he doesn'thear the yap of hellhounds on his trail.Gil described himself best as a "Bluesologist," a Hegelian-cum-African student of the science of "how things feel." Thus the vast emotional range in Gil's writings
 — 
why the existential consequences of getting high and the resultant pathos couldmove that stuttering vibrato to emphatic song same as the prospect of SouthAfrican liberation could. We call Gil a prophet, but most prophets don't prophesytheir own 40-year slow-death with the precision, poignancy and nuance he did on"Home Is Where The Hatred Is," "The Bottle" and "Angel Dust." Gil was betterthan most rappers because he leaned as hard on his vulnerability as othermuhfuhkuhs lean on their glocks, AK's and dogged-out bitches, real or rhetoricallyimagined. His potency as a balladeer is vastly underrated compared to the shine
 
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Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P. By Greg Tate
shown his protest vehicles. If you yearn to hear your nutsack glorified, there arereams of lyrics ready to handily fulfill your manly needs. But the dude who needs asong allaying fears that his failure at marriage will cost him his children can onlyturn to "Your Daddy Loves You." I don't know what Gil's relationship to he andBrenda Sykes' only daughter Gia Scott-Heron was in his twilight-zone years, I justknow that song owns the fraught distraught father-to-daughter communiquécategory in the blues canon. Even his most topical protest songs are too packedwith feeling and flippancy to become yesterday's news, though
 — 
mostly becauseGil's way with a witticism keeps even his Nixon assault vehicle "H20Gate Blues"current. Gil's genius for soundbites likewise sustains his relevance.We'd all rather believe the revolution won't be televised than hear what he reallyenvisioned beneath the bravado
 — 
that we may be too consumed withhypercapitalist consumption to care. And damn if we don't keep almost losingDetroit, and damn if even post-Apartheid we are all still very much wondering"What's the word?" from Johannesburg. And in this moment of The Arab Springwe may "hate it when the blood starts flowing" but still "love to see resistanceshowing." "No-Knock" and "Whitey on The Moon" remain cogent masterpieces of satire, observation and metaphor. "Winter In America" is hands-down Gil at hismost grandiloquent and "literary" as a lyricist, standing with Sly's
There's A Riot Going On
(and the memoirs of Panthers Elaine Brown and David Hilliard) as themost bleak, blunt and beatific EKG readings of their post-revolutionarygeneration's post-traumatic stress disorders. "All of the healers have been killed orbetrayed... and ain't nobody fighting because nobody knows what to save."In death and in repose I now see Gil, Arthur Lee of Love, and the somehow still-standing Sly Stone as a triumvirate
 — 
a wise man/wiseguy trio of ultra-cool ultra-hip ultra-caring prognosticators of late-20th-century America's bent towards self-destruction and renewal. Cats who'd figured it all out by puberty and were maybetoo clever and intoxicated on their own Rimbaudean airs to ever give up the call of the wild. Three high-flying visionary bad boys of funk-n-roll whose early flash andpromise crash-landed on various temptations and whose last decades found themcaught in cycles of ruin and momentary rejuvenation, bobbing or vanishingbeneath their own sea of troubles.Just as with Arthur, James Brown, and Sly, we always hoped against hope that Gilwas one of those brothers who'd go on forever beating the odds, forever provingDeath wrong, showing that he was too ornery and too slippery for the Reaper's

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