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From Mos Def to Kanye: Sampling Gil Scott-Heron

By Stereo Williams

It was announced this Wednesday (May 12) that seminal poet/spoken word artist/singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of its 2021 class. The honor is the latest in a long line of accolades for the legendary artist. 

Born on April Fool's Day in Chicago, and eventually spending his childhood in Tennessee before moving to the Bronx, Scott-Heron honed his talents in Harlem, performing at a nightclub on the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. Over the course of his decades-long career, Scott-Heron would show creative proficiency across genres and disciplines; he was more than comfortable within jazz, soul and blues. He was a poet, a novelist and a revolutionary figure. 

He was as insightful as he was hilarious, as cutting as he was compassionate, possessed of an ever-evolving creativity - as highlighted via his spoken word and his soulful work with frequent musical collaborator Brian Jackson. Scott-Heron died in 2011 at the age of 62. 

Works like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "Whitey On the Moon" have been burned into the collective cultural consciousness of a generation, trickling down to influence younger listeners who have become exposed to the genius of Scott-Heron via rap records and references. With his announcement as an official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, it's the perfect time to look at how Gil Scott-Heron's work has been sampled by some of Hip-Hop's most acclaimed acts. 

 

 

"Mr. Nigga" - Mos Def (feat. Q-Tip)

Mos Def and Q-Tip cement their connection on this reimagining of A Tribe Called Quest's 1994 classic "Sucka Nigga." Released on 1999s Black On Both Sides, the song also samples Gil Scott-Heron's 1980 track "Legend In His Own Mind." 

 

"Black Man" - Schoolly D

The street knowledge and urge to community building is front-and-center on Schoolly D's track. Dropped in 1988 on D's Smoke Some Kill, the song samples Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's "Johannesburg" from 1975.

 

"Me and Jesus The Pimp In A '79 Granada Last Night" - The Coup

One of Boots Riley's best story raps and one of the best ever, period. Released on 1998's critically-acclaimed Steal This Album, "Jesus..." samples Scott-Heron and Jackson's "Angel Dust" from 1978. 

 

"My Way Home" - Kanye West feat. Common

Perhaps no producer further cemented Hip-Hop's love affair with Gil Scott-Heron like Kanye West. Released on 2005s Late Registration, this mournful tune flips Scott-Heron's classic "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" from 1971's Pieces Of A Man.  

 

"Lord Jazz, Hit Me One Time (Make It Funky)" - Lords Of The Underground

The Jersey spitters go hard on this ode to their resident turntablist, and sample "Peace, Go With You, Brother (As-Salaam-Alaikum)" by Scott-Heron and Jackson, from 1974s epic Winter In America.  

 

"Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)" - Kendrick Lamar feat. GLC

A young K. Dot also revisited the brilliance of "Peace, Go With You, Brother (As-Salaam-Alaikum)" on this track from his indie debut, Section 80. 

 

"Brown Skin Lady" - Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli)

Talib Kweli and Mos Def honor sisterhood on this favorite from 1998s classic Black Star album; on which, producer J. Rawls samples "We Almost Lost Detroit" from 1977s Bridges.  

 

"Do You See" - Warren G

The main flip here is of course "Mama Used To Say" from Junior, but it's the opening from Scott-Heron's "Bicentennial Blues" that appropriately sets..."tha atmosphere." 

 

"Why Is That?" - Boogie Down Productions

Sampling 1974s "H2OGate Blues," KRS-One wonders aloud why certain things are celebrated while Black culture gets obscured in this topical classic from 1989s Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop.   

 

"The People" - Common feat. Dwele

Another repurposing of "We Almost Lost Detroit," one of Kanye's finest productions serves as Common's rally for the community. One of the best collaborations from the Chi-town products.