M.O.I. JR: How did you get into revolutionary consciousness? What inspired you to write poetry about the people’s struggle?
Gil Scott: Well, revolution is change, and change is inevitable, so you might as well direct it as opposed to just going through it.
M.O.I. JR: So when would you say? Would this be early on?
Gil Scott: I would say, as someone living in Tennessee in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, you were aware of the fact that there was some problems and there were some people who were trying to do something and you wanted to support them. See, I believed that my grandmother knew everything. The reason I believed that is because every time I asked her a question, she could answer it.
And the things that she was concerned about was the organization of the NAACP, the integrating of the school system, the changes in the economic circumstances. The fact that she would point out people like Fannie Lou Hamer and other folks who were trying to do something in that area were early sign posts that these were the people that I needed to be conscious of as well.
M.O.I. JR: It’s kind of weird that I hear you telling your story and you named groups like the NAACP and Langston Hughes and, being somebody who is much younger than you that grew up off of you, it seems like you were way more radical than what my generation would consider the tame poet and the tame organization.
Gil Scott: I think that what you need to do is go back and read about what was happening at the time of those organizations and those poets were speaking out. For the time that they were dealing in they were radical.
M.O.I. JR: So basically they were the radical voices of your period?
Gil Scott: I’m saying that everybody pushed the envelope a little bit further, because we started in chains. So you took the steps you could to help move your people forward. Like it wasn’t no sense in you running all the way down the block claiming you were leading somebody if you weren’t with them any more.
You could only lead people who follow you, and they could only follow you at a certain pace. So you modify your pace in order to encourage them to stay with you and see where you are going.
M.O.I. JR: One of your most famous tunes is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It is one of the most famous ones that my generation knows. What inspired you to write that piece right there? And I want to know what is the connection between, if there is any, you and the Last Poets, because they did “When the Revolution Comes” and you did “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I’m not very clear on the time periods when both of those pieces were recorded, but you guys sound very similar. And I know that your name is often said in the same breath as their name. Can you tell us what is your relationship in particular with the Last Poets?
Gil Scott: I know all of the members of the Last Poets. As a matter of fact, we did something with the remaining Poets and the group that they are working with now about three weeks ago. I know Abiodun, and I’ve known him since college because his cousin went to Lincoln, which is where I was a student. They were recording on Douglas Records.
Introducing the Last Poets was something of a surprise to me, because the original Last Poets that I had seen first included some other members. Abiodun was the fourth poet among the originals and when the rest of the brothers broke into some other directions, he put that group together that people came to know: Umar Bin Hassan and Jalil. I followed them.
I enjoyed them. I thought that they were bringing a new sound to poetry and to the community, and I enjoyed it. They used to play at a place called the East in Brooklyn, and came out of Harlem and everybody knew about them and what they were trying to do. I was a piano player and played with different groups on piano, and the songs and poems that I had, had a musical tilt to them because they were compositions as opposed to just poems over rhythm.
We came to be known at around the same time. Their things were a cappella without music. Mine were musical and I had a band when I started, so it was a different sort of thing. But we were trying to go in the same direction.
Eu imagino que, assim como eu, muitos jovens desse tempo tiveram seu primeiro contato com Gil Scott-Heron através do excelente rework do I’m New Here feito pelo Jamie xx há 2 anos. É claro, de lá pra cá sua popularidade vem crescendo bastante, mas é esquisita a forma como se chegou a tal situação: Heron é apontado como inventor do rap, porém ele mesmo se considerava um poeta obrigado a transformar suas obras em música; uma expressão que até poderia ser aplicada a alguns rappers contemporâneos (como o Nas), mas que não poderia estar mais distante de algumas tendências primárias de gênero, seja no over-produced sufocante de um A$ap Rocky ou mesmo num cara ligado a potência lírica do rap como o Kendrick Lamar. “There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music”, dizia Heron. Essa afirmação não é ilógica até certo ponto (pegando como outro exemplo à música country, que percorreu uma longa jornada desde o que era feito da junção de música folk tradicional lá dos anos 40 com alguns ritmos populares interioranos dos Estados Unidos até chegar ao que entendemos hoje em dia do gênero), mas não deixa de ser curioso notar que o rap tem uma grande desordem quando o assunto é expressão política; não há uma maneira ou uma receita certa para o seu bom uso – Heron, mesmo que esteja longe da anarquia, não economizava em seus esforços mais furiosos indo do trauma de infância ao ódio do poder branco; tudo através de uma musicalidade inerente que continuava de maneira modesta porém sólida aquilo por que Sam Cooke e Marvin Gaye tanto fizeram em suas carreiras, construindo assim como nos melhores exemplos do Michael Haneke, uma obra isenta de julgamentos morais sem para isso ter que esfacelar seu ponto de vista – e os artistas de hip-hop em geral tendem a vê-lo sem um cuidado maior que o Heron (contornando a despretensão como um de seus maiores trunfos) e tantos outros tiveram; mesmo que vez ou outra haja discos tortos mas bem resolvidos nesse aspecto como o R.A.P. Music do Killer Mike, sempre há outro wannabe-Public-Enemy na frente.