The Last Poets Digital Biography

The true godfathers of hip hop. The Last Poets’ politically charged poetry has inspired everyone from Marvin Gaye to Public Enemy.

The Last Poets are heralded as the true godfathers of hip hop alongside Gil Scott-Heron. Their brand of politically charged poetry has inspired some of the biggest names in music including Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones, all the way through to hip hop giants such as Dead Prez, Common, Public Enemy and Kanye West. The three core members of The Last Poets – David Nelson, Gylan Kain and Abiodun Oyewole – came together in 1968. Several members rotated over the years, including founding member Felipe Luciano, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, Suliaman El-Hadi, and percussionist Nilaja Obabi. The group recorded groundbreaking albums such as The Last Poets in 1970, This Is Madness in 1971, and Chastisment in 1972. The latter fully introduced The Last Poets’ mix of jazz and poetry, doing away with the minimalist percussion of earlier albums. The Last Poets enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity from the early 1990s onwards, appearing alongside the Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest on the 1994 Lollapolooza tour and collaborated with Common on the Kanye West produced track The Corner which was nominated at the Grammy Awards in 2006 for Best Rap Performance. The huge impact made by The Last Poets’ words and music is still strongly felt until today.

The Last Poets is the name for several groups of poets and musicians who arose from the late 1960s African-American civil rights movement's black nationalist movement. The name is taken from a poem by the South African revolutionary poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over. The original users of that name were the trio of Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson.

However, it is the versions of the group led by Jalaluddin Masur Nuriddin and/or Umar Bin Hassan that have penetrated mass culture to a legendary degree. The Last Poets have been cited as one of the earliest influences on hip-hop music. Critic Jason Ankeny wrote: "With their politically charged raps, taut rhythms, and dedication to raising African-American consciousness, the Last Poets almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop." The British music magazine NME stated, "Serious spokesmen like Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, and later Gary Byrd, paved the way for the many socially committed Black [emcees] a decade later."

With their politically charged raps, taut rhythms, and dedication to raising African-American consciousness, the Last Poets almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop. The group arose out of the prison experiences of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, a U.S. Army paratrooper who chose jail as an alternative to fighting in Vietnam; while incarcerated, he converted to Islam, learned to "spiel" (an early form of rapping), and befriended fellow inmates Omar Ben Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole.

The Last Poets Upon the trio's release from prison, they returned to the impoverished ghettos of Harlem, where they joined the East Wind poetry workshop and began performing their fusion of spiels and musical backing on neighborhood street corners. On May 16, 1969 -- Malcolm X's birthday -- they officially formed the Last Poets, adopting the name from the work of South African Little Willie Copaseely, who declared the era to be the last age of poets before the complete takeover of guns. After a performance on a local television program, the group was signed by jazz producer Alan Douglas, who helmed their eye-opening eponymous debut LP in 1970. A collection condemning both white oppression ("White Man's Got a God Complex") and black stasis ("Niggas Are Scared of Revolution"), The Last Poets reached the U.S. Top Ten album charts, but before the group could mount a tour, Oyewole was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being found guilty of robbery and was replaced by percussionist Nilaja.

This Is Madness After the 1971 follow-up This Is Madness (which landed them on President Richard Nixon's Counter-Intelligence Programming lists), Hassan joined a Southern-based religious sect; Jalal recruited former jazz drummer Suliaman El Hadi for 1972's Chastisement, which incorporated jazz-funk structures to create a sound the group dubbed "jazzoetry." Following the 1973 Jalal solo concept album Hustler's Convention (recorded under the alias Lightnin' Rod), the Last Poets issued 1974's At Last, a foray into free-form jazz; after its release, Nilaja exited, and with the exception of 1977's Delights of the Garden, the group kept a conspicuously low profile for the remainder of the decade.

Oh My People By the 1980s, however, the proliferation of rap -- and the form's acknowledged debt to the Last Poets -- made their early records sought-after collectors' items; finally, in 1984 the group resurfaced with the LP Oh, My People, followed in 1988 by Freedom Express. Another layoff ensued, during which time Hassan issued a solo LP, 1993's Be Bop or Be Dead, and Jalal mentored the British acid jazz unit Galliano. In 1995, two splinter groups simultaneously reclaimed the Last Poets name; while Jalal and El Hadi teamed for the single "Scatterrap," Hassan and Oyewole issued the LP Holy Terror.

More recently, the Last Poets found fame again refreshed through a collaboration where the trio (Umar Bin Hassan) was featured with hip-hop artist Common on the Kanye West-produced song "The Corner," as well as (Abiodun Oyewole) with the Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated political hip-hop group Black Market Militia on the song "The Final Call," stretching overseas to the UK on songs "Organic Liquorice (Natural Woman)", "Voodoocore", and "A Name" with Shaka Amazulu the 7th. The group is also featured on the Nas album Untitled, on the songs "You Can't Stop Us Now" and "Project Roach." Individual members of the group also collaborated with DST on a remake of "Mean Machine", Public Enemy on a remake of "White Man's God A God Complex" and with Bristol-based British post-punk band the Pop Group.

In 2010, Abiodun Oyowele was among the artists featured on the Welfare Poets' produced Cruel And Unusual Punishment, a CD compilation that was made in protest of the death penalty, which also featured some several current positive hip hop artists.

In 2004 Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, aka Lightning Rod (The Hustlers Convention 1973) a.k.a Alafia Pudim, collaborated with the UK-based poet Mark T. Watson (a.k.a Malik Al Nasir) writing the foreword to Watson's debut poetry collection, Ordinary Guy, published in December 2004 by the Liverpool-based publisher Fore-Word Press. Jalal's foreword was written in rhyme, and was recorded for a collaborative album "Rhythms of the Diaspora (Vol. 1 & 2 - Unreleased) by Malik Al Nasir's band, Malik & the O.G's featuring Gil Scott-Heron, percussionist Larry McDonald, drummers Rod Youngs and Swiss Chris, New York dub poet Ras Tesfa, and a host of young rappers from New York and Washington, D.C. Produced by Malik Al Nasir, and Swiss Chris, the albums Rhythms of the Diaspora; Vol. 1 & 2 are the first of their kind to unite these pioneers of poetry and hip hop with each other.

In 2011 The Last Poets Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan performed at The Jazz Cafe in London a tribute concert to the Late Gil Scott-Heron and all the (former Last Poets)

In 2014 Last Poet Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin came to London and also performed at The Jazz Cafe with Jazz Warriors the 1st ever live performance in 40 years of the now iconic "Hustlers Convention". The event was produced by Fore-Word Press and featured Liverpool poet Malik Al Nasir with his band Malik & the O.G's featuring Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson and Tony Remy. The event was filmed as part of a documentary on the "Hustlers Convention" by Manchester film maker Mike Todd and Riverhorse Communications. The Executive Producer is Public Enemy's Chuck D. As part of the event Charly Records re-issued a special limited edition of the Vinyl version of Hustlers Convention to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The event was MC'd by Poet Lemn Sissay and the DJ was Shiftless Shuffle's Perry Louis



photo credits include: wisconsinhistorydotorg, architectsofourrepublicdotcodotuk, channel live, coolcalmtish (tumblr), daniel--rivera (tumblr), douglas records, espokenword (tumblr), lisa pacino photography, mati klarwein art, o.d. art, pieterzandvliet, nichole acosta photography, princepoet (tumblr), sue coe art, vintagesoulmusic (tumblr)