Gil Scott-Heron, Spoken-Word Artist, Dies at 62

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Poet and musician Gil Scott Heron performs live on April 24, 2010 in London, England.

The hip-hop revolution did indeed happen live, a revolution Scott-Heron himself helped to pioneer. The legendary poet and artist passed away Friday in New York City.

Dubbed the Godfather of Rap, a moniker he so hated, Gil Scott-Heron laid the foundation for hip-hop and rap music by fusing spoken-word poetry with percussive beats. He hit lyrical gold with his 1970 song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” his political and social analysis of the state of media and activism in the U.S., a poem he recited with the backing of congas and bongos. He went on to release 15 albums, numerous live recordings and compilations, and influenced countless musicians, including Kanye West, who borrowed entire excerpts from Scott-Heron’s early works for songs on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

(LIST: The Best Spoken-Word Songs)

Famous faces in the hip-hop world thanked Scott-Heron for his trailblazing nature. Cee Lo Green tweeted, “Rest in peace to the GOD GIL SCOTT,” and Eminem highlighted Gil’s service in writing, “RIP Gil Scott-Heron. He influenced all of hip-hop.”

Scott-Heron died at the young age of 62, and while it’s not yet clear what led to his death, he often spoke about his struggles with crack cocaine addiction. In 2008, he suggested he might have been HIV positive. But despite his personal challenges, Scott-Heron continued to create his own unique brand of art, even releasing a new album in 2010 titled I’m New Here.

But his messages of minority empowerment and political activism will forever live on, particularly poignant in an age when revolution is flowing through the veins of so many across the world. “The revolution will be no re-run brothers, The revolution will be live.”

(LIST: The Must-Hear Music of Summer 2011)

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