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Gil Scott-Heron performs in Atlanta in 1977. Photo: Tony Murphy/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A spoken-word tune that tackled police brutality, inequality, racism, consumerism, and the shortcomings of the media became an anthem a half-century ago, amid violent uprisings, from Camden, N.J. to Albuquerque, N.M.

Driving the news: With the 50th anniversary of its release, Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is being celebrated for its enduring influence on slam poetry, hip hop and the modern protest movement.

What they're saying: "Gil used to like to beat people over the head with lyrics. We were extremely dangerous," Scott-Heron's writing partner, Brian Jackson, recalls in a new Apple TV series, "1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything." Scott-Heron died in 2011.

  • "We wanted to write about what it meant to be young, Black men in America."

The big picture: The album's release came as cities across the U.S. saw Black and Latino communities in the summer of 1971 rise up against excessive police force resulting in violent confrontations.

  • People in communities of color began mimicking Scott-Heron's spoken-word style to music, helping give birth to modern rap music and earning him the title "Godfather of Rap."

Why it matters: As protests over George Floyd's killing intensified last summer, Scott-Heron's words were repeated in the streets and during virtual events. The song was blasted from vehicles during social distancing caravan marches.

Details: A writing teacher who studied Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, Scott-Heron released the album Pieces of a Man in 1971 as a follow-up to his spoke word collection, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

  • Pieces of a Man was a traditional album with songs fusing jazz, blues and soul.
  • But the opening track, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," featured Scott-Heron reciting his poem to drums and instruments.
  • "You will not be able to stay home, brother/You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out/You will not be able to lose yourself on skag/And skip out for beer during commercials, because/The revolution will not be televised," he said.
  • "Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day" and the coming revolution won't be a mere performance to be aired at a later date, but "will be live."
A New York City mural dedicated to Gil Scott-Heron who died in 2011. Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

Flashback: That year, demonstrators around the world were calling for authorities to release Black scholar and revolutionary Angela Davis.

  • Black and white inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York rebelled against living conditions and mistreated resulting in the most violent encounter between Americans since the Civil War.
  • In 1973, New York Puerto Rican poets founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in a living room salon in the East Village apartment. It eventually became the epicenter of the slam poetry movement who artists regularly paid homage to Scott-Heron.
  • Actor Benjamin Bratt in 2001 reenacted in a biopic the poet and playwright Miguel Piñero's performance of "Seekin' The Cause," sometimes referred to as the Latino version of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

What they're saying: Albuquerque's first poet laureate, Hakim Bellamy, tells Axios he often listened to Scott-Heron's tune on vinyl while growing up in Philadelphia.

  • "I actually wrote a poem that I wrote based wholly on the infrastructure and the template of Gil Scott-Heron poem, except I was talking about more like email and social media."
  • Los Angeles poet Matt Sedillo said Scott-Heron was the inspiration for his own "The Revolution Will Not Be Subsidized," saying, "It came naturally because it is so part of me now."
  • San Francisco poet laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of the forthcoming collection, Blood on the Fog, said that as an undergraduate in New York he retraced Scott-Heron's early footsteps for inspiration: "I can't help but look at his technique. It's needed especially today."

Go deeper

Lawmakers reach "agreement on a framework" for policing reform

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), middle, and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Photo: Drew Angere via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said in a statement Thursday they have "reached an agreement on a framework on the status of police reform negotiations."

Why it matters: Lawmakers have been working toward a bipartisan deal for months. Scott, the Senate's lone Black Republican, opposes the Democrats' George Floyd Policing Act but committed to working with Bass and Booker in the wake of Derek Chauvin's trial.

Obama says Powell exemplified what America "can and should be"

Then-President Obama speaks alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting in the Oval Office in 2010. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Obama called Colin Powell an "exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot" in a statement honoring the former general following his death from COVID-19 complications on Monday.

Why it matters: Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, was known as a Republican but played a critical role in helping Obama get elected in 2008.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion ban

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas' near-total ban on abortions while federal courts consider its constitutionality.

The big picture: The court last month allowed the ban to take effect, rejecting an emergency application by abortion-rights groups. The law bars the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.