JIM WELTE. Writer. Editor.

Gil Scott-Heron: My First…

BY JIM WELTE | Published at 6:00 AM on March 8, 2010

The revolution still isn’t on your flat panel, but hip-hop godfather and author Gil Scott-Heron is back with I’m New Here, an album produced by XL Recordings owner Richard Russell, who soaks the 60-year-old poet/jazzman’s lyrics in a Burial-meets-Portishead brine.

On this stark 28-minute set, Scott-Heron covers both Robert Johnson and Smog, and touts the sublime strength of the grandmother who raised him. And in a nod to the artistic drought spurred by his run-ins with the law and reported ill health, Scott-Heron drops this telling line: “If you’ve got to pay for things you’ve done wrong, I got a big bill comin’.” Shortly before dropping his first album in 16 years—and the first since his latest drug-related jail stint—he spoke with Paste about some other life milestones.

First memory of his grandmother
“My grandmother raised me down in Jackson, Tennessee. I remember that I got a pair of roller skates and she tied a pillow around my behind. I was trying to skate across the living room, and every time I fell I landed right about where she put it.”

First regret
“There was a lady who lived down the street from us, and she was actually my grandfather’s sister, which I didn’t know at the time. Down South everybody calls each other cousin or aunt-this, uncle-that. I knew her as Aunt Sissy, but I didn’t know anything more than that. Had I known that she was actually my grandfather’s sister, I could have found out a lot more about my grandfather, who died before I was born. I wish I knew that and could have gotten more information about him.”

First favorite song
“‘Jamaica Farewell’ by Harry Belafonte. I sang that in the second grade at the talent show. I had no idea at the time that it had a connection to my [Jamaica-born] father and to where I had actually come from.

First musical collaboration
“I sang with another guy in the fifth grade. We did Ritchie Valens’ ‘Donna.’ We did pretty good, and then we sang another one, and we were less than successful.”

First thing he did the last time he got out of jail
“It was colder than a whore is hot, and I wanted to get out of the cold. That’s what it was.”

First regular gig
“I used to play at these coffee shops that had a lot of people on the show. I wouldn’t say they came to see me. They saw me in spite of themselves.”

First time he was proud *
“I saw my mother perform with the New York Oratorial Society. They used to do the Messiah at Carnegie Hall and I went to see her do that. That was a very proud moment. Also, when I finished [1970 novel] The Vulture—because I had set out to do something that I really wanted to finish. I had never finished a project of that size and length before.”

First time he heard a sample of one of his songs
“It was P.M. Dawn’s ‘Paper Doll.’ They sampled ‘Angola, Louisiana,’ and I couldn’t imagine it in advance, but when I heard it I had understood what they done. They sampled the intro, but the way they did it was unique and it sounded pretty good.”

Gill Scott Heron performs at the Regency Ballroom, Friday, October 3, 2009 in San Francisco. Photo by Adam Turner/Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

Gill Scott Heron performs at the Regency Ballroom, Friday, October 3, 2009 in San Francisco. Photo by Adam Turner/Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.