By Makaya Kelday
June 2nd, 2011, the legendary Riverside Church in Harlem.A few hundred of us solemnly make our way to the pews. The man we came to honor, the man whose voice was far from beautiful but never failed to reach the darkest depths of the listener’s soul, the man whose library of music is fifteen albums deep, the man who turned political subjects into dance floor jams, the Godfather of hip-hop, the legendary, the one and only, Gil Scott-Heron –who left us on May 27th.
Gil’s first album Small Talk at 125th & Lenox, was released in 1969, and his last, I’m New Here, in 2010. From “The Bottle” to “From South Carolina to South Africa”, “We Almost Lost Detroit” and the anthem, “The Revolution will not be Televised”, he created music that remained relevant 40 years after it was created and will remain relevant for long after. Before Kool Herc brought us the 1s and 2s, Gil gained the title “The Godfather of Hip-Hop”, from his rhythmic poetry spoken over beats. His music has been sampled and his name mentioned in songs by Kanye West, Common, Mos Def, De la Soul, Freeway, DJ Honda, the Game, Tupac, K’Naan and Grand Puba, to name a few. His influence cannot be debated.
But it was a disappointing day for hip-hop. The Godfather died and no one came to the funeral, except Kanye. Now, how can the biggest superstar from the above-mentioned list, with undoubtedly the busiest schedule find the time and heart to, not only attend but also to perform at the funeral but none of the other artists can?
Kanye’s honest performance of “Lost in the World” ended as he let Gil’s voice on “Who Will Survive in America” ring throughout the church. He hugged Gil’s family and disappeared somewhere in the church. This, along with the musical tribute by Astro, Vernon and Bilal, were the highlights of the celebration–as Gil would have wanted it.
The music that Gil gave us was “left here for us to learn,” as quoted in the Spirits liner notes. And the most amazing thing about music is that it outlives its creator and our children’s children will be able to know the man through his songs. Those of us fortunate enough to have seen him live, witnessed his genius first hand; half politician – half-comedian; all artist. His warm-hearted nature and genuine character, coupled with his long-time struggles are what made him human, one of us, fighting our struggles. We all thought he had more time, but there were greater forces at work. BASICS says thank you to Gil Scott-Heron, the Godfather of Hip-Hop. You will forever remain in our hearts and headphones. R.I.P. Brother Gil. The Revolution will be live!