Often called the Godfather of Rap these days, Gil Scott-Heron in fact emerged as a fiercely eloquent voice from the urban wilderness in the early 1970s, mercilessly skewering political and social forces that had disenfranchised huge swaths of the population and were leading the world down a treacherous path. A writer first and an admirer of Langston Hughes, Scott-Heron eventually fused his own poetry with a potent dose of jazz laced with blues and R&B, railing against complacent media, an oblivious mainstream America, runaway consumerism, racism, venal politicians, and drug abuse. Pieces like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "Winter in America," "Johannesburg," and "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" hit like lightning bolts, both electrifying and enlightening. The rise of hip hop was clearly indebted to Scott-Heron, who has been sampled and referenced by the likes of Kanye West and Common. Silent for a decade and a half—during which he reportedly battled health, addiction, financial, and legal problems—Scott-Heron, 60, recently re-emerged with I'm New Here, a stark, riveting portrait of the artist as weathered scribe, more personally analytical than of the wayward world that once drew his searing scrutiny. In place of jazz is hard-edged post-industrial blues laced with ragged beats as he covers Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil," Bobby Blue Bland's "I'll Take Care of You," and Smog, in the title track's tale of arid alienation. It's like hearing a voice from the other side of the apocalypse, but unmistakably that of a survivor.
Wed., April 14, 7 & 9:30 p.m., 2010