Gil Scott-Heron, Saturday, February 26, at the Lion's Lair, is an acknowledged influence on many of hip-hop's finest performers -- and the genre would be better still if more rappers paid him obeisance. A Chicago native whose formative years were split between the American South and the mean streets of the Bronx, Scott-Heron began as a writer (he published a novel, The Vulture, at the tender age of nineteen), but his compelling readings circa the late '60s led to a musical career that took the highly literate, often militant work of acts such as the Last Poets to a place within sight of the mainstream. Tunes such as "Johannesburg," recorded years before most of the public had even heard about the tragedy of South African apartheid, combined jazzy backing tracks, Scott-Heron's authoritative talk-singing, and words that carried plenty of baggage without showing the strain. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," an early-'70s track that's arguably his best-known composition, didn't turn out to be especially prescient; today it's pretty clear that everything will be televised. But his best albums (many of which were reissued on the TVT imprint in 1998) demonstrate a consistent activism and intelligence that's mirrored by Lauryn Hill, KRS-One, Spearhead's Michael Franti and other hip-hop acts who see the music as something more than simply a soundtrack for forty-guzzling and hoochie-chasing. A visit from such a groundbreaker is always welcome; that he'll be performing with a full band in a joint as intimate (read: small) as the Lair is an incalculable bonus. -- Michael Roberts
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