Due for release on February 8th, Gil Scott-Heron’s first release in thirteen years, I’m New Here, promises to be a scorcher. An accomplished novelist and poet as well as a musician, Heron’s recording debut was in 1970. It is no exaggeration to say that, along with The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron’s recordings have provided a blueprint for rap. Although the genre he inspired has only rarely matched the ferocious eloquence and militancy of his writing, as witnessed on tracks like The Bottle, Johannesburg and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Mos Def, Dr Dre and Kanye West amongst many, many others have all acknowledged his influence.
A writer and activist of Heron’s stature might be expected to decline gracefully in the warmth of critical plaudits but over the last few years his already troubled life descended into a spiral of drug busts and prison terms. Having refused all offers of ‘rehabilitation’, he recently told an interviewer on NPR that as an American black man prison was his only birthright.
Richard Russell, head honcho of XL recordings, tracked Heron down at Riker’s Island and persuaded him back into the studio. The resulting record bears obvious comparison to the best of Rick Rubin’s work with Johnny Cash.
Stripped back to an ominous, glitch infected minimalism, Heron’s extraordinary voice is to the fore on a collection of covers, old favourites, spoken word and new songs. Check out the video for his cover version of Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil below.
Me and the Devil