Gil Scott-Heron – Small Talk at 125th and Lenox
Gill Scott-Heron was only 20 years old when his debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, was recorded in 1970. Still very much a newcomer, Scott-Heron already had a book of poetry and novel to his name.
The 14 tracks on Small Talk are very informed by Scott-Heron’s poetry. The album’s 45 minutes lie somewhere between spoken word, jazz and what would become rap. Backed only by two percussionists, Scott-Heron delivers blistering diatribes in front of an audience on the civil rights movement, race, homophobia and the state of America in general.
Scott-Heron’s signature number “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” opens the album. While the words are the same, this early version lacks the urgent bassline of the better-know interpretation found on 1971’s Pieces of a Man.
While most of the world was celebrating Neil Armstrong’s giant leap on the moon, Scott-Heron penned “Whitey on the Moon.” Using succinct, demanding words, Scott-Heron decries the use of taxpayer money on lunar missions when so many Americans lack access to healthcare and suffer in poverty.
On “Evolution (and Flashback)” Scott-Heron looks at the passing of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the future of the civil rights movement. Scott-Heron sits down at the piano and sings “Who Will Pay Reparations on my Soul” foreshadowing the decade of provocative music he would make with pianist Brian Jackson throughout the 1970s.
Many of the pieces on Small Talk are still potent and relevant, but the homophobia of “The Subject Was F—ts” mars its author and is the album’s only blemish. – Joel Francis