Skip

Poets for the Revolution
September 3, 2010 2:34 AM   Subscribe

Musicians don't often end up on FBI watch lists, but the Last Poets did, thanks to their links with the Black Panthers.
They were the rappers of the civil rights era.
Made in Amerikkka.
Niggers Are Scared Of Revolution!.
Before the White Man Came.
True Blue.

(wiki)
Tongues on Fire a tribute; and a hommage from Living Colour.
Finally . for one more lost poet.
posted by adamvasco (28 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Last Poets song Wake Up, Niggers features in the Nick Roeg/Donald Cammel film starrring Mick Jagger and James Fox, Performance. Filmed in 1968, Performance finally saw the light of day in 1970. I believe Jack Nitzsche was responsible for the overall soundtrack.

Great movie. And The Last Poets? Doing rap before rap was invented.
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:08 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


A couple of years ago I saw Umar Bin Hassan perform live, accompanied by a young guitarist. I briefly talked to him after the show. He was really nice, and a lot less angry than I somehow thought he would be.
posted by charles kaapjes at 4:01 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you can get your hands on it via interlibrary loan or some other method (I can only find it for $102 used on Amazon), make sure to read Vibes from the Scribes. It's an integral source in pedigree of african american vernacular.

I was directed to it by my Creative Writing professor in college when she and I were discussing the dissonance both of us experienced being of mixed race. [I mean, look at the poor woman's name. No one should go through life with a last name no one can pronounce upon reading it, and a first name spelled phonetically in that "oh, so adorable when it's written in crayon by a four year old, but maybe we as parents shouldn't do that to our children knowing full well they will be adults who wish to be taken seriously some day" manner. That wikipedia pic is really messing with my head, though. She's certainly a beautiful woman, but she was so awkward with her sexuality, I can't believe she posed for it. When Steve Almond spoke to our class and tried to explain why sex, specifically descriptions of the vagina and its moisture, is so difficult to describe in the written word, she was sweating and had to excuse herself.]

She thought Vibes from the Scribes would be a good resource for me, since I hadn't grown up with any sort of black culture in my enviornment, and she thought I would be interested in "expressing that portion of my heritage" in my writing. On the one hand, she certainly picked a hell of a book... it is a quintessential speciman in the etymology of so many modern colloquial terms and linguistic functions in African American culture. But on the other hand, at the age of 20, I had long since come to terms with the fact I was raised in Upstate New York with a bunch of other white kids, and "expressing that portion of my heritage" would end up like the time Tom Clancy tried to write dialogue for those hip youngsters.

She also used to criticize my penchant for digression.

So, um... Last Poets. Good stuff. Good stuff.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:13 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


My aunt had their albums, so it was pretty sweet to be exposed to all that as a kid. Shit was mindblowing.
posted by nomadicink at 4:19 AM on September 3, 2010


...and a lot less angry than I somehow thought he would be."

On preview, I had written quite a paragraph on why I'm bothered when those in the civil rights movement for African Americans are referred to as "angry". I'll admit, the vitriol was hypocritical. I'll just say the theme of what I didn't post was "please don't do that."

Instead, I will link to the seminal work The Revolution Will Not be Televised, by Gil Scott Heron. He was never officially a member of the Last Poets, but he was considered an integral part of their influence.

Trying to keep this thread on the rails.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:25 AM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the Last Poets, Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin, using the pseudonym Lightnin' Rod, did a session with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles, resulting in a track called Doriella Du Fontaine.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:35 AM on September 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


@wabbitwax: nice track! I was a fan of TLP in the early '80s and saw them live in NYC around '83, playing in a school auditorium with Bernard Purdie on drums. It seemed the perfect venue somehow.
posted by SNACKeR at 4:46 AM on September 3, 2010


Woody Guthrie
John Lennon

Probably many others.
posted by DU at 4:52 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, Faze. Your trolling is like a fine wine.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:05 AM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


ahhh. One of my prized possessions is my vinyl copy of The Last Poets. Great stuff. In fact I'll probably be subjecting my students to some of it when we get to the section about black power and black nationalism.
posted by anansi at 5:09 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I absolutely love the Last Poets! Another artist to check out is Pharoah Saunders. The only thing I can play on the piano is his piece 'Blackness'.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2010


NWA rattled the Bureau back in the day too.
posted by Rykey at 5:49 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


a first name spelled phonetically in that "oh, so adorable when it's written in crayon by a four year old, but maybe we as parents shouldn't do that to our children knowing full well they will be adults who wish to be taken seriously some day" manner

What are you talking about? It's French for "loved." There's a masculine version too, "Aimé."
posted by mkb at 5:53 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, look at the poor woman's name. No one should go through life with a last name no one can pronounce upon reading it, and a first name spelled phonetically in that "oh, so adorable when it's written in crayon by a four year old, but maybe we as parents shouldn't do that to our children knowing full well they will be adults who wish to be taken seriously some day" manner.

I'm not sure what to make of this crazy bias, considering that her family name is a perfectly fine and easy-to-pronounce one relative to the conventions of the language and people from which it originated. And her first name, Aimee, is actually the original form of the name "Amy" (it only takes a basic knowledge of French to comprehend that the name is essentially the feminine form of the adjective "aimé," which means "loved" or "beloved") - so it's really "Amy" which is the corrupted "cute" form people should be embarrassed by, if you want to be snide about it. This comment seems rather like the one made a year or so ago by a Texas legislator who complained that Texans with "unpronounceable Asian names" should change them to "real American ones."

On preview, I had written quite a paragraph on why I'm bothered when those in the civil rights movement for African Americans are referred to as "angry". I'll admit, the vitriol was hypocritical. I'll just say the theme of what I didn't post was "please don't do that."

I can imagine your point, but of course, many people in the Civil Rights Movement did, often, describe themselves as "angry". You should hear an interview a friend of mine did with Nina Simone around 2001, in which she took great pains to describe the ferocity of her angry even then - "We were ANGRY, we were BITTER, we were PISSED OFF!" That said, the term "angry" has probably been more often used to describe people in the years after the generally accepted span of the civil rights era (seen as ending around 1968) than during the civil rights era. The assumption was that civil rights battles had been won, it was only a matter of time before these rights blossomed into empirical equality, and that people still vitriolic were simply impatient or something. (History puts all this in a different light today; it's fair to state that much of the message of the Last Poets was that things had not really changed enough, and the real danger to the existence of equality was complacency on the part of those who did not enjoy it.)

One last thing. I can't say that Gil Scott-Heron didn't influence the Last Poets through his books (though I can't prove it), but the Last Poets were doing their musical thing before Scott-Heron was doing his, and Scott-Heron has acknowledged this. Scott-Heron's also said that some of his work was in response to the Last Poets material, and he does seem to have a song or two which can be construed as criticism of the group. The Last Poets have championed Scott-Heron from time to time. It feels like more mutual awareness and cross-fertilisation than one being an "integral" influence on the other.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:05 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nowadays the FBI just has a Ping account. They follow their favourite artists there.
posted by mazola at 6:26 AM on September 3, 2010


My vinyl copy of the s/t album is big and unwieldy, made of the thickest card stock I've ever seen used for an LP. It's a struggle to get in or out of a poly bag and somehow sticks out from the rest of my albums in that section of shelf. I love a record that forces you to spend a little more time with it-- even before you get to listen. I only break it out for special occasions.

Great post!
posted by activitystory at 6:32 AM on September 3, 2010


If you can get your hands on it via interlibrary loan or some other method (I can only find it for $102 used on Amazon), make sure to read Vibes from the Scribes.

There are decent copies at AbeBooks going for ~$20. But I'm not sure why anyone would settle for the words on paper when the amazing recordings are so easy to find. My fave album has to be Chastisement, probably their jazziest record, with gems like Bird's Word, Jazzoetry, E Pluribus Unum and the savage Black Soldier. One of the sharpest shows I ever saw was Last Poets in a Jamaican restaurant years ago in Raleigh, a couple of miles from where one of the founders had done time in Central Prison. He lived here for a while and went to Shaw University. Thanks for the excuse to listen to them again, adamvasco.
posted by mediareport at 6:34 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jalal Mansur Nuriddin has been trying to sort out and enforce his copyrights. There's at least one riff in there that is very widely sampled. It's complicated, because various partial ownerships were sold off in a less-than-formal way, with handwritten contracts, some forgotten by the seller, that ended up in the possession of major record labels.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2010


Came in to mention the Performance soundtrack. That was my first exposure to the Last Poets. Incredible.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:03 AM on September 3, 2010


The Performance soundtrack was my first exposure, too. I was thirteen, and a year later my English teacher played her class Gil Scott-Heron.
posted by goofyfoot at 7:26 AM on September 3, 2010


"Jones Comin' Down" was always one of my favorites from them. Can't locate a link for it, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:41 AM on September 3, 2010


My experience and perspective on them:

It was great theater. I actually had one of their LP's and foolishly gave it to this sociology prof that I had a crush on.

Their main audience, from what I could gather, was comprised of young white college students, who, up to then had not had very much exposure to ghetto life.

I saw them at the Ashgrove in LA (I think) and they cultivated this scary vibe, on and off stage which, in retrospect, was part of their schtick. The adoring white kids (me among them) were thrilled to be let into that world, but still sorta terrified that one of them might go off and kill a few of us.
posted by Danf at 7:53 AM on September 3, 2010


Bathtub Bobsled,, UI loaned my cherished copy of Vibes from the Scribes to a young man in my first-year writing class 8 years ago. I hope that's not the one on Amazon. He could have easily been described as angry at the start of the semester--he didn't want to be in a mandatory composition class and didn't see any need to be able to read or to write. His first couple of attempts to write were meant to shock me, I guess, and it probably surprised him that I knew large sections were lifted from Tupac.

We started a discussion from that point, since he didn't know where Tupac's name came from, and I think the whole class benefited from my digression about 60s/70s radicals, and their poetry. One of the somewhat standard exercises to get first year writers engaged in writing was based off of some of Geoff Sirc's theories and since the 2nd week of class was also the 1st anniversary of the WTC attack, the class was vocal about wanting to debate violence and terrorism--split about 50-50 between "Terrorism as I define It is Always Bad" and Sometimes You Just Gotta Shake People UP, Even though I don't Think The WTC Attack is the Right Way."

Dee Xtrovert, GSH was influenced by the OLP (Luciano, Kain, and Nelson) but his performances with Brian Jackson were contemporary with the group we all know as the Last Poets--not to say there wasn't cross influence for both, perhaps to say that there isn't a "day zero" on spoken word/poetry that (obviously) evolves into rap and hip hop. The Watts Prophets released their album a year before GSH & LP, and live performances by the Art Ensemble included political poetry before that, and before that Shepp, and before that, Charles Mingus's Fables of Faubus and Meditation on a Pair of Wirecutters both included speech designed to raise consciousness.

I guess what I'm trying to say is--it was the times, is what it was. If you went into certain black churches or mosques in Chicago back then, you heard the voices raised questioning the status quo; like now, only enforced through the selective service draft then, you had a war fought by people of color against people whose fight was for their tribal land, their homeland. I don't want to derail this into a talk of justification of the war then or now, just expressing that COINTELPRO and Hoover and the FBI and in great part the "main street" of America wanted to pound down anything that looked like it was a nail, and The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, Amiri Baraka, and thousands of others were looking a lot like nails back then.

I thank all of them for influencing my world-view.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Recent profile of Gil Scott-Heron in the new yorker. Might be worth a trip to the library. He's still here.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:03 AM on September 3, 2010


I believe Jack Nitzsche was responsible for the overall soundtrack.

And Randy Newman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, & Ry Cooder were on it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:10 AM on September 3, 2010


To the list of Woody Guthrie and John Lennon being others who were watched by the FBI, we can add Joan Baez (because of her husband at the time, primarily) and Pete Seeger, and Tupac. At least.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2010


Goddamn I love the Last Poets.

A bunch of my friends were kind of disillusioned when they came to a seminar at our high school afterschool/summer poetry workshop we were attending, and they just kept talking about how much fun heroin was in the seventies and badmouthing hiphop

They get a lifetime pass from me though, if only for "The White Man's Got A God Complex"
posted by elr at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2010


There is one thing about niggers I do not love. Niggers are afraid of revolution.
posted by telstar at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2010


« Older Phos Pictures   |   Gingers and daywalkers rejoice! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post