Gil Scott-Heron's music arrived in the musician-as-journalist tradition of Phil Ochs. Political statement came first. You don't see much of this anymore. Music, after all, is only tangentially related to politics. Otherwise, songwriting would suffer all the limitations of political speech. Lawyers would need to vet beats, and reams of legal research would need to accompany every Katy Perry track. And few would do it as well as Gil-Scott Heron.
Heron had the power to distill moments in time down to a tune; in the case of "Washington D.C.," he encapsulated the social discrepancies of power, poverty, and race in the nation's capital in mid-summer. If someone were to bottle and sell D.C. in the 1970s, they would have a hard time doing better than the video for the track. The swelter and the languid atmosphere alongside Gil Scott's own variety of simple Stevie-Wonder soul is the perfect backdrop to casually mention how incomprehensible it is that one of the richest countries in the world can't seem to feed its own citizens. The winking tone makes the tough message go down all the more easily.
Purchase on iTunes: Gil Scott Heron / "Washington, D.C."
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