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Gil Scott-HeronSmall Talk at 125th and Lenox (Flying Dutchman), 1970On his debut recording, Gil Scott-Heron channeled the anger and disgust of Black America in startling, sometimes bitingly humorous verse, laying out a blueprint for the rappers who would follow a decade later. Accompanied by a pair of conga players, the 20-year-old Scott-Heron rhythmically recited his urban and urbane poetry for an intimate and appreciative nightclub audience. The opening “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” truly heralded something new, as Scott-Heron eviscerated mainstream culture and its numbing effects on the psyche, skewing the words of corporate commercialism as a wakeup call to his people. “The revolution will not go better with Coke,” he intoned with righteous indignation. “The revolution will not fight germs that cause bad breath/The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” Then there was the scathing “Whitey on the Moon,” a stark remonstrance of national priorities at the height of the space program: “A rat done bit my sister Nell/With Whitey on the moon/Her face and arms began to swell/And Whitey’s on the moon.”
As on “Brother,” Scott-Heron could be equally unsparing when addressing Black folks, taking to task pseudo street-corner revolutionaries who were more interested in sporting the right daishiki or Afro than in accomplishing anything truly valuable for the community. His very real ire was tempered by deep compassion, but unfortunately not for everyone, and his anti-gay diatribe “The Subject Was Faggots” foretells rap’s egregious attacks on homosexuality.Accompanying himself on piano, Scott-Heron reluctantly showcased his fine singing voice on a couple of numbers — it would figure more prominently on future recordings — but for the most part, he, well, raps. His influence on hip-hop was well-recognized before his death in 2011.