Scott-Heron was born in Chicago but spent his early childhood in Tennessee, then moving to the Bronx for most of his high school career. After spending a year in college in Pennsylvania, he released his first novel, The Vulture, which was very well-received. He began recording in 1970 with the LP Small Talk at 125th & Lennox with the assistance of Bob Theile, co-writer Brian Jackson, Hubert Laws, Bernard Purdie, Charlie Saunders, Eddie Knowles, Ron Carter and Bert Jones jazz musicians (see 1970 in music). The album included the aggressive diatribe against white-owned corporate media and middle-class America's ignorance of the problems of inner cities. 1971's Pieces of a Man used more conventional song structures than the loose, spoken word feel of his first, though he didn't reach the charts until 1975 with "Johannesburg". His biggest hit was 1978's "The Bottle", produced by Heron and longtime partner Brian Jackson, which peaked at #15 on the R&B charts (see 1978 in music).
During the 1980s, Scott-Heron continued recording, frequently attacking then-President Ronald Reagan and his conservative policies. He was dropped by Arista in 1985 (see 1985 in music), and quit recording, though he continued to tour. In 1993, he signed to TVT Records and released Spirits (see 1993 in music).