Lifetime Achievement Award: Gil Scott-Heron

Common pays tribute to revolutionary rap artist
  • Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
    Gil Scott-Heron
  • Photo: John Shearer/WireImage.com
    Common
February 10, 2012 -- 1:06 pm PST
By Common / GRAMMY.com

Gil Scott-Heron was a leader, a leader in revolution. He had the courage, strength, heart, will, sense of sacrifice, and selflessness that few embody in this world. Gil was a leader who possessed a powerful but soothing voice, a voice that had the tone and texture of standing up for the people. He represented the people from the ghetto, the people who were oppressed and the people who were standing up for justice and equality for all. Gil Scott-Heron was the embodiment of millions; their voices and their spirits were alive in him.

I remember the first time I heard Gil as a young boy. My best friend played his record, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I was intrigued, excited and amused by this inspirational piece. At the time, I was unaware of the mighty influence the song's empowering message would have on me not only as an artist, but as a human being.  From that point on, every time I listened to Gil's music he truly left footprints on my soul. He left footprints of joy, footprints of resistance, and footprints of power and love. Gil gave us a chorus of power to chant to. And he gave us shoes of positive change and upward mobility to walk in.

What was so beautiful about Gil's gilded gift of artistry was that he blessed the world with messages that impacted the paradigms of the youth in such a dynamic way. What makes this truth so magical is that in the eyes of our youth we find our development and progress as a collective human race. We find our future. I was a member of that youth at one period of time. I represent the generation Gil influenced and crowned with his wisdom, style and musical genius.

In college, as I was being exposed to more and more types of music, I was reintroduced to Gil Scott-Heron. It was then, after having the same intrigue and excitement as hearing him the first time, that he officially became one of my favorite artists. I loved the depth of his voice, the soul he sang with, the music that he created, and the words that sparked illuminating thoughts. I loved the beautiful experience I had every single time I listened to Gil's music and felt the movement that naturally shined through the lyrics.

I found myself taking pieces of him and placing them into my own music because he represented something bigger than us and of the spiritual realm. I would quote him, sample him and use his lyrics for inspiration in my songs. On my single "The 6th Sense" I quoted "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." On my single "The People" we sampled "We Almost Lost Detroit," and it felt great to connect my work to the work of such an iconic poet and artist as Gil Scott-Heron.

To make it all even more mesmerizing, in August 2010 I was afforded the blessing to connect with Gil personally during a performance we had together in Central Park. I remember the day vividly. First, I went to Gil's home in New York. He was barbequing and we were talking about how to perform the songs at the show. We traded thoughts and I even revealed to him that I someday wished to play him in a movie. He told me all about the new book he was writing. As we exchanged stories and thoughts with one another, I thought to myself, "This is one of the greatest artists the world has ever seen," and I was honored just to share the moments we had as artists and as brothers.

I know Gil Scott-Heron shared his soul in every note, lyric and song we heard from him. I will always appreciate the influence and impact he had on me and the world. I will forever work to keep his inspiration alive.

(Common is a two-time GRAMMY winner. His most recent album, The Believer/The Dreamer, was released in December 2011. He currently stars in the AMC TV series "Hell On Wheels.")

In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 54th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2012 Special Merit Awards recipients.

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