Saturday, June 4, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Gil Scott-Heron

From the Village Voice article "Gil Scott-Heron, R.I.P." by Greg Tate:

You know why Gil never had much love for that ill-conceived Godfather of Rap tag? If you're already your own genre, you don't need the weak currency offered by another. If you're a one-off, why would you want to bask in the reflected glory of knock-offs? If you're already Odin, being proclaimed the decrepit sire of Thor and Loki just ain't gonna rock your world.

Gil knew he wasn't bigger than hip-hop—he knew he was just better. Like Jimi was better than heavy metal, Coltrane better than bebop, Malcolm better than the Nation of Islam, Marley better than the King James Bible. Better as in deeper—emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, politically, ancestrally, hell, probably even genetically. Mama was a Harlem opera singer; papa was a Jamaican footballer (rendering rolling stone redundant); grandmama played the blues records in Tennessee. So grit shit and mother wit Gil had in abundance, and like any Aries Man worth his saltiness he capped it off with flavor, finesse and a funky gypsy attitude.

More here.

In all honesty, I've been going back and forth about having the recently departed Scott-Heron as Emcee of the Month. When I first considered it, I thought it was a decent idea. Sure, my dinky little blog would never be capable of offering a fitting tribute to the loss of such a musical, literary, social, and cultural icon. But if I could contribute to the bouquet of voices celebrating his legacy with such poetry and brilliance, I felt that I would have done my part.

Then I read this article.

I was never aware of Gil's distaste of the recognition he received for being a direct predecessor to hip hop music. For me it seemed to be a natural connection. But after this read, I had to agree with Mr. Tate. Gil is way better than most of these emcees that currently occupy our radio waves and television screens. And though there is a connection, what he was doing was not rap. It's the wrong term for Gil's work, largely because it carries too much of today's social stigma. Gil was doing necessary sociopolitical commentary with flourish, aggression, and thought, accompanied by an instrumental heartbeat recognizable to black community. I don't know what the short and simple label would be that could fit the scope and complexity of his art, but it's certainly not "Godfather of Rap".

However, I do believe emcee is, at the very least, applicable to how he did what he did. The word we hip hoppers know as 'emcee' evolved from the homophonic acronym M.C., which stands for master of ceremonies. That's the key. A ceremony is an event or occasion of communal and spiritual importance; a rite of passage. The word's Latin origin 'ceremonia' means "sacredness" or "reverent rite". Therefore, an emcee's charge is to hold, guide, and enhance the ceremony. And considering his ability to do just that, Gil Scott-Heron was undeniably a master.

Here is Gil Scott-Heron's "The King Alfred Plan". Enjoy.


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