Pieces of a Man
We Interrupt This Program to Bring You . . .
When he wrote "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," the scathing media critique that leads off this record, the poet and hip-hop progenitor Gil Scott-Heron envisioned a cataclysm so great it would disrupt even America's primetime viewing habits. "Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and women will not care if Dick finally gets down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow, because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day. . .. The Revolution will not be televised."
Electrifying when it first appeared on Scott-Heron's modest, voice-and-drums debut Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, "Revolution" got the full band treatment a year later on this follow-up album; it's this version that is most remembered now. Backed by a group of jazz luminaries—in addition to pianist Brian Jackson, who accompanied the vocalist throughout this era, the band includes bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard Purdie, and flutist Hubert Laws—Scott-Heron rolls through verse after caustic verse. He riffs on race, politics, American escapism, and intolerance, leaving just enough room for the musicians to slip tasty responses into the margins. The result is a profound sound: Mind-expanding ideas set against simmering rhythms.
The son of a Jamaican soccer player, Scott-Heron was one of three young black students involved in the court-ordered integration of a public school in Jackson, Tennessee. The experience eventually led him to the creative life. First he wrote poetry, then added hip rhythmic support—throughout this record and his other works from the same period (including the addiction rant "The Bottle"), Scott-Heron's lyrics question the status quo and mock the happy talk of politicians, encouraging listeners to think for themselves. That, of course, is a timeless notion: More than a generation later, when rap started to bubble up, old-timers hauled out this record to show kids how effective spoken-word delivery could really be. Plenty of hip-hop stars have acknowledged the debt—Chuck D of Public Enemy said in a 1994 interview that in his view, "everybody in rap has to know about Gil Scott-Heron, because in a sense, this rhythmic message music started with him."
Released: 1971, Flying Dutchman
Key Tracks: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," "Lady Day and John Coltrane."
Catalog Choice: Winter in America
Next Stop: Last Poets: The Last Poets
After That: Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
Book Pages: 684–685