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PHOTO ESSAY

In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences

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Gil Scott-Heron

Photograph by Giacomino Parkinson.

Hip hop and rap have many important influences—R&B, funk, soul, jazz, rock and roll performers; poets, and writers like Iceberg Slim; and stylistic forebears like Muhammad Ali and Richard Pryor. Few of these can match the importance of the spoken-word artist, improvisational street-poet, and R&B performer Gil Scott-Heron. Born on 1 April 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, Scott-Heron grew up in Tennessee and the Bronx, New York, where he undertook a life of writing at an early age. His first novel, The Vulture (1970), was a respectable effort and well-reviewed, but Scott-Heron's true fame would rest in his poetry and in his recordings. A radical reformer who wished to influence social change through words and ideas, Scott-Heron's spoken-word recordings were themselves formed out of firsthand experience with prejudice during his time in Tennessee as well as his alarm at the increasing violence and hopelessness growing in America's inner-cities. Tracks like the groundbreaking "The Revolution Will Not be Televised" (1974) as well as frequent attacks on the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan ("B Movie" and "Re-Ron" among others) would serve to make Scott-Heron an important figure among socially minded and politically inclined rap artists like KRS One and Public Enemy.

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