Even those who may have never heard of Scott-Heron’s name nevertheless knew his music. His influence on generations of rappers has been demonstrated through sampling of his recordings by artists, from Common to Mos Def to Tupac Shakur. Kanye West closes out the last track of his latest album with a long excerpt of Scott-Heron’s “Comment No. 1.”
Throughout his musical career, he took on political issues of his time, including apartheid in South Africa and nuclear arms. He had been shaped by the politics of the 1960s and black literature, especially the Harlem Renaissance.
Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of “The Vulture,” a murder mystery.
He also was the author of “The Nigger Factory,” a social satire.
His final works continued his biting social commentary. “I’m New Here” included songs with titles such as “Me and the Devil” and “New York Is Killing Me.”
In a 2010 interview with Fader magazine, Scott-Heron admitted he “could have been a better person. That’s why you keep working on it.”
“If we meet somebody who has never made a mistake, let’s help them start a religion. Until then, we’re just going to meet other humans and help to make each other better.”
Associated Press writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi