One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron‘s aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Born in Chicago but transplanted to Tennessee for his early years, Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand many of the experiences that later made up his songwriting material. He had begun writing before reaching his teenage years, however, and completed his first volume of poetry at the age of 13.
Though he attended college in Pennsylvania, he dropped out after one year to concentrate on his writing career and earned plaudits for his novel, The Vulture. Encouraged at the end of the ’60s to begin recording by legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele — who had worked with every major jazz great from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane — Scott-Heron released his 1970 debut, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, inspired by a volume of poetry of the same name. With Thiele‘s Flying Dutchman Records until the mid-’70s, he signed to Arista soon after and found success on the R&B charts. Though his jazz-based work of the early ’70s was tempered by a slicker disco-inspired production.