Born in 1942 and schooled in the Detroit folk scene, Rodriguez was a hard-bitten street poet. His experiences as a child of immigrants – in a tough, tough city racked by terrible riots – led him to a caustic, brutal lyrical approach: as he sings on Hate Street Dialogue, “I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree”.
His debut album Cold Fact (originally recorded in 1970) was not what America wanted to hear back then though and, coupled with Rodriguez’s own self-sabotaging qualities – he was too withdrawn and far too political – the album sold very little on its original release. Rodriguez ostensibly then gave music away and worked instead as a labourer.
And that was it until the album found its audience on the other side of the world: in South Africa and Australia, where Rodriguez became a superstar and the album slowly became something of a cult hit. In apartheid-era South Africa, army conscripts swapped cassette copies as if it were a pamphlet of revolution.
Rodriguez was eventually found by a journalist in 1996, working on a Detroit building site, and unaware that he now owned a fortune in Rand.