December 02, 2008


Gil Scott-Heron was born April 1, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, but spent his early childhood in the home of his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee. He began writing in fifth grade. When he was 13, his grandmother died and he moved with his mother to the Bronx, where he enrolled in DeWitt Clinton High School. He transferred to The Fieldston School after one of his teachers, a Fieldston graduate, showed one of his writings to the head of the English department there. After one year at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Scott-Heron took a year off to write a novel. He returned to New York City, settling in Chelsea, Manhattan, which was at the time a multiracial and multicultural neighborhood. The novel, The Vulture, was published in 1970 and well received.

Scott-Heron began his recording career in 1970 with the LP Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. Bob Thiele of Flying Dutchman Records produced the album and Scott-Heron was accompanied by Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders on conga and David Barnes on percussion and vocals. The album's 15 tracks dealt with themes such as the superficiality of television and mass consumerism, the hypocrisy of some would-be Black revolutionaries, and white middle-class ignorance of the difficulties faced by inner-city residents. In the liner notes, Scott-Heron acknowledged as influences Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Jose Feliciano, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Nina Simone, and the pianist who would become his long-time collaborator, Brian Jackson.

Scott-Heron's 1971 album Pieces of a Man used more conventional song structures than the loose, spoken-word feel of Small Talk. He was joined by Johnny Pate (conductor), Brian Jackson (piano and electric piano), Ron Carter (bass and electric bass), Bernard Pretty Purdie (drums), Burt Jones (electric guitar), and Hubert Laws (flute and saxophone), with Thiele producing again. Scott-Heron's third album, Free Will, was released in 1972. Jackson, Purdie, Laws, Knowles, and Saunders all returned to play on Free Will and were joined by Jerry Jemmott (bass), David Spinozza (guitar), and Horace Ott (arranger and conductor).

1974 saw another LP collaboration with Brian Jackson, Winter in America, with Bob Adams on drums and Danny Bowens on bass. He didn't reach the charts until 1975 with the song Johannesburg, from the album From South Africa to South Carolina. That year he and Jackson also released Midnight Band: The First Minute of a New Day. A live album, It's Your World, followed in 1976 and a recording of spoken poetry, The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron was released in 1979. His biggest hit came with a song called Angel Dust, which he recorded as a single with producer Malcolm Cecil. Angel Dust peaked at #15 on the R&B charts in 1978.

In 1979, Scott-Heron played at the No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were organized after the Three Mile Island accident by Musicians United for Safe Energy to protest the use of nuclear energy. Scott-Heron's song We Almost Lost Detroit, about a previous accident at a nuclear facility, was included in the album of concert highlights.
During the 1980s, Scott-Heron continued recording, releasing Reflections in 1981 and Moving Target in 1982. Scott-Heron was a frequent critic of President Ronald Reagan and his conservative policies:

"The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can -- even if it's only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse - or the man who always came to save America at the last moment -- someone always came to save America at the last moment -- especially in 'B' movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan -- and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at -- like a 'B' movie." (Gil Scott-Heron, "'B' Movie") Scott-Heron was dropped by Arista Records in 1985 and quit recording, though he continued to tour. In 1993, he signed to TVT Records and released Spirits, an album that included the seminal track Message to the Messengers. The first track on the album was a position point poem to the rap artists of the day and included such comments as:

"Four-letter words or four-syllable words won't make you a poet, it will only magnify how shallow you are and let ev'rybody know it."
"Tell all them gun-totin' young brothers that the 'man' is glad to see us out there killin' one another! We raised too much hell, when they was shootin' us down."
"Young rappers, one more suggestion, before I get outta your way. I appreciate the respect you give to me and what you've got to say."

Scott-Heron is often seen as a founding father of rap. Given the political consciousness that lies at the foundation of his work, he can also be called a founder of political rap. Message to the Messengers was a plea for the new generation of rappers to speak for change rather than perpetuate the current social situation, and to be more articulate and artistic: "There's a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There's not a lot of humour. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don't really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing."

In 2001, Gil Scott-Heron was sentenced to one to three years' imprisonment in New York State for cocaine possession. While out of jail in 2002, he appeared on the Blazing Arrow album by Blackalicious. He was released on parole in 2003.

On July 5, 2006, Scott-Heron was sentenced to two to four years in a New York State prison for violating a plea deal on a drug-possession charge by leaving a treatment center. Scott-Heron said he is HIV-positive and claimed the in-patient rehabilitation center stopped giving him his medication. The prosecution countered that Scott-Heron had once skipped out for an appearance with singer Alicia Keys. Scott-Heron's sentence will be complete on July 13, 2009, but he will be eligible for parole two years before that date.

Scott-Heron's father, Giles "Gil" Heron (nicknamed "The Black Arrow") was a Jamaican soccer player who played for Glasgow's Celtic Football Club in the 1950s. In fact, when he came to Scotland from the United States to join Celtic in 1951 he became the team's first black player. At the time, Celtic F.C. was the team of Scotland's Irish immigrants.


Brian Jackson was born October 11, 1952 in Brooklyn, New York and is widely regarded as one of the early architects of the neo-soul era, Brian Jackson's enduring sound is capturing the hearts and souls of yet another generation. Today, Brian is not only a respected jazz artist but also a frequent collaborator with emerging artists who carry on the Tradition of inspiring and informing the masses through conscious music.

The Tradition started in 1970 when the Brooklyn-born producer, composer, and musician Jackson began writing songs with another prodigy, 20-year-old Lincoln University classmate and poet Gil Scott-Heron. Jackson remembers his first encounter with Gil, "He had this way with words and I thought to myself, 'People have to hear this stuff.' What I had to offer was the music and I figured if we can take his words and make this tribal knowledge rhythmic and musical, we can draw people to hear it."

Their partnership produced some of the most fiercely poignant, politically charged, and significantly soulful albums of the seventies. Pieces of a Man, Free Will, Winter in America, First Minute of a New Day, From South Africa to South Carolina, Bridges, Secrets, and 1980, are coveted by collectors and conscious-minded music fans alike. Tracks like The Bottle, Johannesburg, It's Your World, Angel Dust, Willing, and 95 South (All the Places We've Been), while highly relevant back-in-the-day, have taken on heightened new relevance today by serving as an inspirational and musical Rosetta stone for the neo-soul movement. Having produced ten top-selling albums with Gil, Brian decided to continue evolving his musical talents in the eighties by collaborating with Kool and the Gang, Phyllis Hyman, George Benson, Gwen Guthrie, and Roy Ayers. In 1988, Brian co-produced Will Downing's self-titled and UK gold-selling debut album.

Brian welcomed the turning of a century with his long overdue first solo album, gotta play. "No one could have told me when I was recording my first album, Pieces of a Man (with Gil Scott-Heron), that it would be the 21st century before I recorded a solo album. But this collection of music represents my offerings of new friendship, fresh perspective, and a new life."

With his rekindled spirit to continue the Tradition and reach a new generation, Jackson, for his next album, is collaborating with new voices and translating their lyrical visions into powerful neo-soul musical statements. For his next new-day-making-change album, Jackson is soulfully aligning with Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets), Radio Free Brooklyn's Pete Miser, poet/songwriter Masauko of South Africa's Blk Sonshine, Oakland's Black Dot Collective freestyle MC Safahri Ra as well as with other lyrically brilliant new artists worldwide.

Asked about his motives, Brian reflects, "This music isn't mine and the minute I start trying to own it, it's all over. It's my responsibility to pass on what I've learned. That's living the Tradition."


Osibisa Founding members included Ghanaians Teddy Osei (saxophone), Sol Amarfio (drums) and Mac Tontoh (trumpet); Grenadian Spartacus R (bass); Trinidadian Robert Bailey (keyboard); Antiguan Wendell Richardson (lead guitar); and Nigerian Lasisi Amao (percussionist and tenor saxophone). Ghanaians Darko Adams Potato (died 1995) and Kiki Djan (died 2004) have also been members of the band.

Osibisa describes itself as the godfathers of world music, claiming to have paved the way for more famous musicians like Bob Marley, who became popular in the mid-1970s. Their music is described as a fusion of African, Caribbean, jazz, rock, Latin and R&B.

Many of Osibisa's works are highly danceable. and feature highly complicated and sophisticated Afro-Caribbean bass-drum grooves and dynamic horn charts.
The name Osibisa was actually described by the band members to mean "criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness". They classify their music as AfroJazz and "World" music. The band went through many incarnations with the founder members Teddy Osei, Mac Tontoh and Sol Amafio being the only original members that stayed with most incarnations. They originally favoured instrumentals which were heavily interlaced with African chants and percussions as well as a well organized horn section featuring Tedi Osei and MacTontoh, all this underpinned with an aggressive bass line. Their style influenced many of the emerging African musicians of the time.


Last Poets were rappers of the civil rights era. Along with the changing domestic landscape came the New York City-hip group called The Last Poets, who used obstreperous verse to chide a nation whose inclination was to maintain the colonial yoke around the neck of the disenfranchised.

Shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, The Last Poets were born. David Nelson, Gylan Kain, and Abiodun Oyewole, were born on the anniversary of Malcolm X's birthday May 19, 1968 in Marcus Garvey Park. They grew from three poets and a drummer to seven young black and Hispanic artists: David Nelson, Gylan Kain, Abiodun Oyewole, Felipe Luciano, Umar Bin Hassan, Jalal Nurridin, and Suliamn El Hadi (Gil Scott Heron was never a member of the group). They took their name from a poem by South African poet Willie Kgositsile, who posited the necessity of putting aside poetry in the face of looming revolution.

"When the moment hatches in time's womb there will be no art talk," he wrote. "The only poem you will hear will be the spearpoint pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain....Therefore we are the last poets of the world."
The Last Poets has brought together music and the word. Like Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), they are/were modern day griots expressing the nation- building fervor of the Black Panthers in poems written for black people. As the great poet Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) says, "The Last Poets are the prototype Rappers... the kina nigger you don never wanna meet!" They teach what America does to its Black men, what Black men do to themselves, and WHY!

Novelist/essayist Darius James, in his book "That's Blaxploitation!" (St. Martin's Griffin, 1995) recalled the impact of the Poets at their birth.
In 1970 the Last Poets released their first album and dropped a bomb on black Amerikkka's turntables. Muthafuckas ran f'cover.
Nobody was ready.

Had em scared o' revolution. Scared o' the whyte man's god complex. Scared o' subways. Scared o' each other. Scared o' themselves. And scared o' that totem of onanistic worship -- the eagle-clawed Amerikkkan greenback! The rhetoric made you mad. The drums made you pop your fingers. And the poetry made you sail on the cushions of a fine hashish high.
Most importantly, they made you think and kept you "correct" on a revolutionary level. We all connected. 'Cause it was a Black communal thing. Like the good vibes and paper plate of red-peppered potato salad at a neighborhood barbecue. The words and the rhythms were relevant. We joined together around the peace pipe and the drum. And when it came to the rhythms of the drums, the drums said, "Check your tired-ass ideology at the door."

With withering attacks on everything from racists to government to the bourgeoisie, their spoken word albums preceded politically laced R&B projects such as Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and foreshadowed the work of hard-hitting rap groups such as Public Enemy. Their classic poems Niggers are scared of Revolution, This is Madness, When the Revolution Comes (not to be confused with Oyewole's modern version linked above), and Gashman were released on their two record albums Last Poets (1970) and This Is Madnesss (1971). I, the maker of this webpage, learned the poems of both albums from the lyrics on the back.

During their late 60s and early 70s they connected with the violent factions of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the Black Panther party. They went through confrontations with the FBI and police, and went arrests for robbing the Ku Klux Klan and various other ventures with Revolution in mind. Abiodun Oyewole received a 12-to-20-year jail sentence, but served less than four years. Like Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan was able to overcome the urban social maladies of a broken home, child abuse, a musician-father doing jail time, the dog-eat-dog world of public housing in Akron Ohio, and his own crack addiction. Hassan dispenses with the eloquence of classic English verse, for the gritty, in-your-face cadence of the 'hood.

They also fought each other and split into two groups. One, including Jalal Nuriddin, who wrote Wake Up Niggers, and Suleiman el-Hadi, was known as "The Last Poets" and the other, including Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan, while also original members, was billed as "Formerly of the Last Poets." It was a legal dispute, fundamentally, and for years there was talk of reconcilation. Nuriddin and el-Hadi also were active, though mostly in the UK (Nuriddin has been based in London for some years). In an early 90's Paris where Umar Bin Hassan was preparing for a Last Poet concert, Jalal mysteriously appeared and stabbed Hassan in the throat. Attempting to learn their own lessons, at present only Oyewole and Hassan (shown at the top of this page) remain of the original Last Poets in the group, and have the right to call themselves that title.

The Last Poets made four albums. Oyewole, at times with Hassan, at time without, made a number of others. On the albums, there are many special guests. Bill Laswell has appeared with the group during much of the 90s. They participated in the 1994 Lollapalooza tour; performed in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice" film and Holy Terror has Senegalese drummer Aiyb Dieng and his longtime collaborator, former Coltrane protege Pharoah Sanders to add some fireworks on sax. Hassan has the CD Be Bop or Be Dead. Anyway, a mid 90s performance of Oyewole and Hassan can be heard on the Stolen Moments: Red Hot and Blue compilation, which also ran on PBS as a video. On the fourth album since 1993,Time Has Come, Chuck D, co-founder of Public Enemy appears.

The full Last Poets story, as well as poetry, can be found in the book On a Mission: Selected Poems and a History of The Last Poets by Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan written with music journalist Kim Green

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