MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — Gil Scott-Heron, the hard living 'godfather of rap,' had a message for his audience at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
"For those of you who bet I would not be here — you lose."
The poet-singer from Chicago whose angry lyrics about racism, poverty and addiction struck a chord with young black Americans growing up in the 1970s, opened his set in Montreux with "Blue Collar."
If it was meant to be autobiographical, the refrain from this 1982 song was prescient: "Ain't no place I ain't been down."
Scott-Heron, 61, has been down, most recently in 2001 when a judge in New York sentenced him to one to three years in prison for failing parole conditions after being arrested for cocaine possession.
Out of the limelight for over a decade, his songs have stayed on the airwaves thanks to sampling by a new generation of artists such as Tupac Shakur, Kanye West, Mos Def, Common and Dr. Dre.
In 2010 Scott-Heron released his first studio album for 16 years, "I'm New Here," from which he played "I'll Take Care Of You" a love song by someone who's been there, and done that, and still has something to give.
Joking about his encounters with border guards on the way to Switzerland — "I've been arrested by bigger police than you" — the elder statesman of protest lyrics baffled some in the audience with his trademark blunt delivery, but stayed away from the songs that marked an angrier time.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" wouldn't, perhaps, be understood by the YouTube generation.
The 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, held on the shores of Lake Geneva, runs until July 17.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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