Rap Icon Gil Scott-Heron Dies

By Dirk Hanson 06/01/11

Credited with inspiring early hip-hoppers like Public Enemy, he also struggled with crack addiction for most of his life.

Musician Gil Scott-Heron, acknowledged by many as the father of rap poetry, and whose battle with crack cocaine informed most of his adult life, died yesterday in New York. He was 62. The cause of death had not yet been determined. Famous for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” an early 70s Black Power anthem, Scott-Heron went on to record a dozen more albums, but crack addiction and complications resulting from his HIV infection were growing problems in the last few years. He said in a New Yorker article last year that he was still smoking cocaine: “Ten to fifteen minutes of this, I don’t have pain,” he said. “I tried the painkillers, but after a couple of weeks I felt like a piece of furniture. It makes you feel like you don’t want to do anything. This I can quit anytime I’m ready.”

As for rap, his feelings were wryly mixed. “I don’t know if I can take the blame for it,” he said in an interview last year with the music Web site The Daily Swarm. But as the New York Times put it: “Mr. Scott-Heron established much of the attitude and the stylistic vocabulary that would characterize the socially conscious work of early rap groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. And he has remained part of the DNA of hip-hop by being sampled by stars like Kanye West.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]