It is noted that hip hop first emerged in the South Bronx at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the 1970s. However, the foundation of hip hop was originally laid in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park (renamed Marcus Garvey Park at 124th Street and 5th Avenue) by The Last Poets, a group of young political revolutionaries, in 1968.
The Last Poets reflected the harsh realities of America’s political injustices, as well as other societal ills that plagued the Black community, through their piercing spoken-word lyrics over African percussive beats. Their politically charged raps were bullets of knowledge that raised the consciousness of Black people. They opened the door for the hip hop generation and in the process became known as the “Godfathers of Rap.”
On May 14, The Last Poets will be honored in a tribute celebrating their 40th anniversary at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at 8 p.m. Special guests will include poet Amiri Baraka and poet Gil Scott-Heron, whose charged, syncopated lyrics also sparked Black awareness. The Last Poets, including Abiodun Oyewole, Felipe Luciano and Don Babatunde, percussionist, will be in attendance.
“I take a great deal of pride that The Last Poets have been able to endure for 40 years and make such an impact,” said Abiodun Oyewole. “Over the years no one has been able to duplicate us, we were bold and brazen. I’m totally in awe of this group and what we’ve accomplished.”
The original Last Poets were Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson. The group evolved in 1969 to include Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole, along with percussionist Nilaja. They are considered the primary members of the group appearing on the 1970 self-titled debut album produced by East Wind Associates for PIP Records.
Their follow-up album, “This Is Madness” (1971), resulted in the group being listed under the counter-intelligence program (founded by then President Richard Nixon). Hassan left the group following “This Is Madness” and was replaced by Sulieman El-Hadi (now deceased) in time for “Chastisement” (1972). The album introduced a new sound the group called “jazzoetry,” leaving behind the spare percussion in favor of jazz and funk instrumentation blended with their fierce words. “For the upcoming tribute, we will only be using the conga,” stated Abiodun. Luciano, Kain and Nelson recorded separately as “The Original Last Poets” which included such albums as “Kain” and “The Blue Guerrilla” (Juggernaut Records).
The Last Poets are educators of the street; their words of informed revolutionary inspiration are just as relevant today as they were four decades ago. Just take a listen to “New York, New York,” “On the Subway,” “Black Thighs,” “Jones Coming Down” and “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.” Yes they use the “n word” and profanity, not as Ebonics prose, but to get your attention, unlike many of today’s rappers. Kool Moe Dee, Chuck D and Public Enemy, and A Tribe Called Quest are torchbearers of The Last Poets.
During the 1980s and beyond, the group is often credited for designing the blueprint for the hip hop generation. Recently, The Last Poets collaborated and appeared with rap artist Common on the Kanye West-produced song “The Corner” and with the Wu-Tang Clan on the track “The Final Call” from their album “Black Market Militia.”
On today’s hip hop generation Abiodun noted, “They have glamorized all the no, no’s and praised things we shouldn’t. The vehicle of hip hop is legitimate, but we need more dedicated rappers who are saying something and making a statement and not just making money.”
The Last Poets will begin their “reunion tour” in July, visiting such countries as Austria, Portugal and Sweden.
“It’s great to see our fire is still burning, that’s a blessing,” said Abiodun.”
For tickets or more information, call (212) 222-0982 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.