Here is a final post for the week. To say that I have been burning the candle at both ends is an understatement. With a full daytime job, and 2 to 3 DJ gigs a week, plus this holiday rush, I’m ready to get on a plane once again and sit somewhere far from civilization. I’m definitely looking forward to getting some rest these next two weeks, thanks to both X-Mas and New Year’s falling late in the week. I thought tonight I’d do something a bit different, and feature some spoken word. I picked this up at a garage sale from a friend who claimed it was “beat”. I wasn’t sure if he meant the copy or content, and I figured any record by these guys couldn’t be that bad. I was right. Here’s The Last Poets with “In Search of Knowledge” off of their 1973 LP At Last on Blue Thumb Records.
The Last Poets were formed by a bond while in jail. An ex-Army paratrooper, Jalal Mansur Nurriddin, converted to Islam while incarcerated, and upon release linked up with Omar Ben Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole. They went to Harlem and started on their poetry and spiels (early forms of rapping) and joined the East Wind Poetry Workshop. On May 16, 1969, the Last Poets were born. This was the day of Malcolm X’s birth. With their contempt for society, government, the White race and other oppressors, plus the state of the nation at the time, there was a lot of anger in their surroundings. They released their first record in 1970 after being spotted on TV performing. This record gained some momentum, charted on Billboard, and garnished them some attention. Sadly, before they could go out on tour, Oyewole was sentenced to a lengthy jail term, and replaced by percussionist Nilaja. Their second release, This Is Madness, saw the departure of Hassan, but the entrance of Suliman El-Hadi, plus their name on various government agency watch l lists. They were accused from everything to being associated with The Black Panther Party to robbing KKK members. These guys were the real deal, revolutionaries of the modern day. Their third release, Chastisement would blend their spiels and spoken word with Jazz, gaining the nickname “Jazzetry”. This particular record saw the departure of Nilaja, plus the beginning of side projects by members and ex-members. Jalal released a record called Hustlers Convention under the name Lightnin’ Rod, which is interesting. Check out the side “Sport” if you haven’t already. Spoken word over some damn good Funk. The Last Poets rounded out the 70’s with Delights of the Garden before jumping into the 80’s, influencing many politically charged Rap groups from Paris to Public Enemy to Boogie Down Productions. The band members and ex-members had a power struggle throughout these years with drugs, jail, and each other, trying to claim The Last Poets Name. Even though there was a huge struggle, the members continued to push on, writing books, performing, and spreading out from the United States to the UK. They still managed to collaborate with artists such as Bill Laswell and others.
The Last Poets, as I said earlier have been an influence on many Rap and Hip Hop performers. They’ve been sampled by a LONG list of bands, and to me, I think that their revolutionary stance and take no shit attitude has really not only struck fear into many bigoted and close minded individuals, but also opened the eyes of those who struggled with oppression. They were one of the many voices out of the Vietnam era, voices that spoke for those who couldn’t, and their fusion of Free Jazz and Poetry was most certainly revolutionary. Not to say it wasn’t done in a different way by the Beats a few decades earlier, but the fervor and seriousness of their message had not yet been seen or heard on the radio airwaves. NYC was a hotbed of Civil Rights, and these cats were pushing the envelope in activism with their words and music. We are all in search of knowledge, whether it’s 1973 in Harlem, or 2008 in Asbury Park, NJ. This post goes out to my friend Lindsey Gilmore in London, who just sent me a copy of his first published work of Poetry called Look and You Will See. Cheers mate. I will have one more post before the Holiday, so until then, Keep Diggin’!