You Go, Gil

Years before outspoken rap outfits like Public Enemy unleashed their politically charged verbal arsenals, Gil Scott-Heron was taking on relevant social issues via intelligent, articulate rhymes. In 1994, Scott-Heron cut the scathing "Message to the Messenger," on which he criticized modern hip-hop for appealing to the lowest common denominator and chastised rappers for their negative depiction of women. He's cooled off some since then. Here's how he sees things now:

On violence in rap: "These kids in these studios are not in the streets where the violence is taking place. I think that if they knew what they were talking about, they would slow down."

On profanity in rap: "Turn it off! I try to make sure that everything I perform I can do in front of both my mother and my daughter. If I can do that, then the piece is all right. We're in a world where youngsters have to put on a whole lot of disguises just to get to school in the morning. One of them is this tough guy, this macho man."

On rap's international popularity: "There's never been anything like this. They like [rap] in Europe, and I'm sure they don't understand what they're saying. But it's got a beat, it's got rhythm. [It's] like mind over matter: If you don't mind, it don't matter. They're not analyzing it for the politics of it."

On rap's critics: "It's very cruel to write harsh things about these young people. Are we so far removed at 28 and 38 that we cannot remember [being] 18 at all? Some of the comments are too vindictive, too critical."

The final verdict on rap: "My kids like it, and I don't know why; and I like my kids and I don't know why. So it's all right, and I don't know why.


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