The Last Poets: the hip-hop forefathers who gave black America its voice

Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

By Rebecca Bengal

You can trace the birth of hip-hop to the summer of 1973 when Kool Herc DJ’d the first extended breakbeat, much to the thrill of the dancers at a South Bronx block party. You can trace its conception, however, to five years earlier – 19 May 1968, 50 years ago this weekend – when the founding members of the Last Poets stood together in Mount Morris park – now Marcus Garvey park – in Harlem and uttered their first poems in public. They commemorated what would have been the 43rd birthday of Malcolm X, who had been slain three years earlier. Not two months had passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King. “Growing up, I was scheduled to be a nice little coloured guy. I was liked by everybody,” says the Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole. He was 18 and in college when he heard the news. “But when they killed Dr King, all bets were off.”

That day led to the Last Poets’ revelatory, self-titled 1970 debut of vitriolic black power poems spoken over the beat of a congo drum. Half a century later, the slaughter continues daily, in the form of assaults, school shootings and excessive police force. “America is a terrorist, killing the natives of the land / America is a terrorist, with a slave system in place,” Oyewole declares on the Last Poets’ new album, Understanding What Black Is, in which he and Umar Bin Hassan trade poems over reggae orchestration, horns, drums and flute. It’s their first album in 20 years, reminding a new generation of hip-hop’s roots in protest poetry.

The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes.

“Ghostface Killah and RZA [from the Wu-Tang Clan] will bow down when they see us,” Oyewole says. “People say we started rap and hip-hop, but what we really got going is poetry. We put poetry on blast.” The Last Poets’ poems have been sampled or quoted by NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy and many more; the rapper Common’s Grammy-nominated 2005 song The Corner features the Last Poets (as well as Kanye West) representing the old-school guys in the neighbourhood who explain how black power rose up from the streets. “The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar,” Bin Hassan says in the song. “Power to the people!”

The late Gil Scott-Heron, meanwhile, is often mistakenly believed to have been a member of the Last Poets. Rather, they were contemporaries, the connective tissue between the rap, hip-hop and spoken word genres they helped inspire, and their own direct influences: jazz and Langston Hughes and the words of their slain leaders. “‘I been to the mountaintop!’” Oyewole says, quoting King’s final speech when I visit him. “Ain’t nothing but a poem.”

On this Sunday, as with almost every Sunday for the last three decades, Oyewole is hosting the Open House poetry workshop in his Harlem apartment, a 20-minute walk from the spot where the Last Poets once spoke their first words. The door is cracked open for the stream of visitors who will fill the seats all afternoon and evening. Oyewole rarely reads his own work, but instead serves as teacher, leader and cook (“I do this to repair myself,” he says). There are homemade salmon croquettes, shrimp grits and potatoes waiting in the kitchen. Fifty years of vintage posters and framed awards adorn the walls in the corridor – a literal hall of fame – while others are covered with masks from Oyewole’s travels all over Africa and South America.

When he was growing up, Oyewole says, his father “raised me to hard work” – weeding the garden in Jamaica, Queens – “and I got love overtime from my mother”. He calls two women mother, including the aunt who raised him and demanded he learn to clearly recite the Lord’s Prayer so she could hear every word in the kitchen. Now 70, wiry, energetic, and having received his chosen name in a Yoruba religious service, Oyewole still uses his voice like an instrument, dramatically dialling it up and down in volume for emphasis in the free-ranging conversations that take place in his living room: basketball, the novels of Chinua Achebe, the backlash election of Donald Trump. “All Barack Obama got to do was clean up the mess made by the Bush administration. Pride was restored, money was restored. But that’s all black folks has ever done, cleaning up. We’ve been the biggest servants this country has ever seen.”

In the early 70s, when the Last Poets’ first album began to attain popularity, Oyewole was in prison. He had been studying at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and robbed a local Ku Klux Klan meeting. “I have a strong distaste for guns now,” he says. “But back then I treated my .38 Special like it was my wallet.” During his three-and-a-half-year sentence, Oyewole’s good behaviour permitted him study leave. On school days, as part of his study, he would visit a radio station and read out entire books on the air, which were then broadcast in the evenings. “I’d come back to my cell after class and guys would holler: ‘I got you on my headphones, New York!’” he says. These days, when he teaches poetry workshops to teenage girls incarcerated at Rikers Island, he exhorts his students to educate themselves. “I tell them: you put a top hat on time and you learn how to get time to serve you!”

The Last Poets today … Abiodun Oyewole, Baba Donn Babatunde, and Umar Bin Hassan.
The Last Poets today … Abiodun Oyewole, Baba Donn Babatunde, and Umar Bin Hassan. Photograph: PR

Last Poets drummer Baba Donn Babatunde drops by and Oyewole introduces him as the heartbeat of the group. Impressively tall, he wears a gold pendant on his dress shirt in place of a tie and speaks in a serious, mellifluous baritone. When he was 11, his activist mother turned him on to the Last Poets; since 1991, when he joined the group that so inspired him, he tries to summon in his drumming “the spirit, the anger I felt when I first heard those poems. What I do is the dramatisation of those words, carrying them rather than fighting them.”

By and by others drift in. “Can I play your drum?” a guy called Jason asks as he wanders in. In his early 20s, he smokes some dope and grows quickly impatient. “Check this out!” Jason pleads, pausing to cue up a phone recording of himself playing at home.

Oyewole isn’t having it. “I don’t want to hear your damn gadget!” he explodes. He refuses to use a mobile phone. “In 1972, in my poem Mean Machine, I wrote: ‘Synthetic genetics controls your soul,’” he says. “Who would I be if I had one of those things now? Some of them here get up and read their poetry right off their gadgets. I tell them: that thing is a wall between us and you.”

He is equally harsh on those who blame their circumstances for their troubles, a philosophy Bin Hassan shares. One of Bin Hassan’s poems on the new record, NEWS (North East West South), is a moving response to the death of Prince, who was a fan of the group. “I grew up black in the midwest; I had a creative father who could be abusive,” Bin Hassan says a few days after the workshop. “The kid in Purple Rain is named Jerome, and that’s my real name. So when I saw the film, I felt like it was my life story, too. But you can’t get hung up – you have to use that and move on.” Bin Hassan moved to Baltimore several years ago and, in between writing poems, he looks after his grandchildren. “I cleaned up,” Bin Hassan says, having fought a crack addiction, “and I’m thankful I’m still here.”

Rain Maker, a 20-year veteran of the workshop, runs through poems for a gig in Albany the next night. Albe Daniel, an actor and poet who calls Oyewole a surrogate father and addresses him as “Pops”, brings his daughter Katie, six. A poet called Miriam strides up to Oyewole’s chair: “This is Ramesses!” she says proudly, and a tiny face peeps out from a carriage. “Well, well,” says Oyewole, smiling. “I just got off the phone with my own son, Pharaoh.” A guy who introduces himself simply as Born brings bags of wine and groceries; soon there’s frying in the kitchen, Lauryn Hill on a mini-stereo by the stove, the happy chaos of a little party in the making.

At about 8pm, Oyewole shuts everyone up. “We’re getting ready to do poetry!” he shouts and everyone dutifully lines up. Immediately, a chorus of 15 or so voices – young and old, all persons of colour – recites in bright, powerful unison: “I want to be who I want to be …” This is the “pledge”, committed to memory by every workshop poet, written on the fly by Oyewole years ago when he was doing a school visit in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant district and a sharp-eyed student noticed he hadn’t recited the US pledge of allegiance. “I don’t sing no Star-Spangled Banner – that’s a war song!” he responded. “And I tell you what, I got a better pledge than that one.”

“I want to feel good about me, and blame no one for my misery,” the poets continue in collective, syncopated rhythm. “I want to say what I know, to make my brothers and sisters grow.”

“Baby, that’s a mouthful!” Oyewole says, his eyes lighting up. It’s time for the workshop participants to step up.

A guy in his 20s rises, mumbles his name inaudibly. He recites his poem over familiar music, the instrumental of Childish Gambino’s Redbone. “You got a flow,” Oyewole acknowledges, “but I want to see you being totally original.”

A discussion about artistic theft ensues. One of the best-known homages to the Last Poets arrived via Notorious BIG’s debut single, Party and Bullshit. Recently, a judge dismissed a lawsuit in which Oyewole alleged that Biggie, Rita Ora and other artists, infringed on copyright and used the lyrics in a “non-conscious” way, corrupting the original message.

“When the revolution comes, some of us will probably catch it on TV, with chicken hanging from our mouths,” the Last Poets chant on their debut. “When the revolution comes …!” The line in question is one they say in a rhythmic chorus: “But until then you know and I know niggers will party and bullshit, and party and bullshit …” The rhythm is echoed in Biggie’s recitation of the line. “It’s like prophecy, Pops!” Albe Daniels says. “Y’all called it. The revolution came and they were all partying and bullshitting.”

Abiodun Oyewole performing in 2006.
Abiodun Oyewole performing in 2006. Photograph: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Vanessa, a New York-raised teacher in her early 40s with family back in Haiti, waits through a few protracted rounds of talk before the room shushes again. “May the dust of your slain sisters stick to the soles of your feet when you walk,” she reads midway through her poem and Oyewole stops her. “Do that line again!” he shouts appreciatively. “That was so fucking powerful.”

At midnight, the open house is closed. “I tell them all to scatter like mice!” Oyewole says. At seven the next morning, like every morning till 12.30pm, he will return to his desk and write facing east, to Marcus Garvey park. “I look east because that’s where the sun rises,” Oyewole says. “That’s where life begins.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/18/the-last-poets-the-hip-hop-forefathers-who-gave-black-america-its-voice


2NIGHT 8PM ET- Watch Connect – Black Careers Moves that Make Mondays Suck Less


Uncommon Careers Shaking up the the Black Community 

Learn about careers moves that can have you living for Mondays

Connect S1 E8 Black Media is Black Power

Meet Media Moguls doing big things in Black media and learn how their work is making your world better.



Connect TV By Let’s Buy Black 365 S1 E3

CONNECT S1 E3 Real Black Love


Black love and relationships are at the heart of the black empowerment. How much does being insecure at home, at work, or in society play into killing the potential of Black love. Black Love where to find it and how to enhance it. Plus, bonus videos, and content.

“Proof of Consciousness” (P.O.C.) the Host of REVIVE!!! 01/31/2018

Today’s REVIVE show topic is entitled:

“Wednesday Edition”

#REVIVE #WeeklyThrill #SpecialGuest 

#CurrentEvents #TrendingTopics 

It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832. This episode of REVIVE will be an open forum so all perspectives can be heard through great conversation.

This episode on REVIVE is entitled “Wednesday Edition” on REVIVE RADIO! Call in to REVIVE at 215-490-9832, you never know what may happen!


Tina Bonner: Tina Bonner started her first business at 7 years old. Two decades later Hustle hasn’t lost any steam. Now, the award winning entrepreneur is teaching you to master the hustle in this rapidly changing world of entrepreneurship.

Nieema Foster: Nieema Foster is the owner of Quiet Expression Pins a small black woman owned pin business featuring lapel pins that reflect black culture and expression. She was inspired to create her own pin business after being a big fan of Radical Dreams Pins, another black-owned pin shop that consists of pins and accessories that relay a message and support social causes. One of my first pins “A Don’t Touch My Hair” metal bobby pin stemmed from several frustrating experiences having my hair touched without my consent. Presently, I am working on the production of more content that incorporates her love for people of color and community elevation.


It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys the listening audience out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832  & follow on Twitter, IG & Facebook @REVIVE_POC 


“Proof of Consciousness” (P.O.C.) the Host of REVIVE!!! 01/28/2018

Today’s REVIVE show topic is entitled:



#WeeklyThrills #TalkRadio 


It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832. This episode of REVIVE will be an open forum so all perspectives can be heard through great conversation.

This episode on REVIVE is entitled “SUNDAY EDITION” on REVIVE RADIO! Call in to REVIVE at 215-490-9832, you never know what may happen!


Sharon Lewis: Sharon Lewis is a Trini-Jamaican-Canadian-American hybrid who infuses her filmmaking with a sense of cinematic wonder and socio-political woke-ness.  She has won awards for her work in front of and behind the camera. Brown Girl Begins is her passion project and debut feature film, she is continuing to work in the dystopian genre with her tv series in development called The Burn.

Jerré Jakeé: Jerré Jakeé is a Christian author of Beautiful Liar and Unequally Yoked, book writing coach, editor ghostwriter, and mother to a 4-year old son, will host her first networking mixer catering to moms in business and entrepreneurship. 


It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys the listening audience out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832  & follow on Twitter, IG & Facebook @REVIVE_POC 


Colin Kaepernick Gave Away One Million Dollars In A Year, and It’s Kind of A Big Deal

Colin Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee against police brutality — is making a far-reaching impact on society off the field. Kaepernick, who sparked a protest movement against police violence against Black bodies, has moved the debate forward on racial justice for Black people.

In September of 2016, Kaepernick pledged that he would donate $1 million plus the proceeds of his jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations that work in oppressed communities — $100,000 a month for 10 months. Most recently, he raised $10,000 per day for 10 days with his #10for10 campaign, with 10 of his friends selecting organizations he should donate to and matching his contribution.

As a part of the NFL player’s campaign, R&B singer Jhené Aiko and Chris Brown each donated $10,000 to the Southern California-based Schools on Wheels, a rolling schoolroom which offers tutorial services to the region’s growing homeless population. Homelessness has increased 23 percent in Los Angeles County in 2017 over the year before, and 20 percent in the city of Los Angeles.


Tennis legend Serena Williams contributed $10,000 to Imagine LA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of family homelessness and poverty.

Also accepting the #MillionDollarChallenge is the rapper T.I., who partnered with Kap to donate $20,000 to Trae Tha Truth’s Angel by Nature organization, a “boots on the ground” group that has provided relief to Houston post-Hurricane Harvey.


As part of Kaepernick’s campaign, Snoop Dogg gave $25,000 to Mothers Against Police Brutality, a Dallas-based group formed to unite mothers who have lost their children to police violence. “It’s no secret that Uncle Snoop Dogg has transcended into global mega-stardom and even though he’s busier than ever, our brother still finds time to give back to the Community in so many ways. Like a true OG, Uncle Snoop didn’t even flinch when I reached out to him about being part of my #MillionDollarPledge,” Kaepernick said. “With such an alarmingly disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic men and women killed by police, it’s obvious why Snoop chose this organization. Thank you, Uncle Snoop for everything that you have done, and have yet to do, in entertainment as well as the community. Much continued success to you my brother.”

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors donated $10,000 to United Playaz, a violence prevention and youth development organization based in San Francisco. The organization provides vulnerable young people ”higher education, employment, and healthy living within a safe, nurturing, and collaborative environment.” Curry’s Warriors teammate Kevin Durant contributed to Silicon Valley De-Bug, a San Jose organization that uses storytelling and media creation to promote social justice.

Actor Jesse Williams gave $10,000 to Advancement Project, a “next generation, multi-racial” civil rights organization committed to dismantling and reforming “the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy through the development of community-based solutions to racial justice issues.”


Nick Cannon and Joey Badass joined Kaepernick in donating $40,000 to Communities United for Police Reform, a New York-based campaign by members of the community, lawyers, researchers and activists to end discriminatory policing practices.


As the sidelined NFL player is taking a stand for social justice and putting his money where his mouth is, the NFL’s own “Let’s Listen Together” campaign — highlighting the league’s $89 million commitment to social justice and equality — has lost its luster. “The campaign will highlight the NFL’s commitment with TV spots, digital content and social media engagement. Hopefully, this will educate the masses, creating some sensitivity for those who need it and spark change,” wrote Jarrett Bell in USA Today. “But it also has the feel of top-shelf marketing and PR spin, with Kaepernick’s original message hijacked as part of an NFL crisis management strategy in the face of backlash from those who could care less.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of players who were handpicked by the NFL as a “safe” alternative to Kaepernick has splintered, as Howard Bryant of ESPN noted. Bryant wrote that the coalition was insulted by accusations it had sold out, and “the league had lured them with promises of social commitment and big money to cover for the real purpose of sabotaging their movement and ending the protests.” The failure of the NFL to sign Kaepernick is a scandal, claims Dave Zirin of The Nation, arguing that despite the self-promoted image of the league as a meritocracy, billion-dollar teams chose to fail rather than sign the athlete-activist this season.

Although he was blackballed and did not even play this past season, Kaepernick was named a finalist in the NFL Players Association’s Byron “Whizzer” White Community MVP award, along with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and defensive lineman J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. The winner of the award, which honors contributions to the community, will be announced Feb. 1 at the NFLPA’s Super Bowl news conference. The NFLPA will donate $100,000 to the winner’s favorite charity or his foundation, with the other finalists receiving $10,000 apiece. The award honors players for their contribution to the community and recognizes a player each week over the season. After the winner is chosen, the NFLPA will donate $100,000 to that player’s foundation or a charity of choice. The other four finalists receive $10,000 each for their charities or foundations.

The impact of Kap’s contribution to social justice was reflected in a recent cover of the New Yorker magazine, which depicted a kneeling Martin Luther King flanked by Kap and Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks.

In October, Kaepernick filed a right-to-work lawsuit against the NFL for collusion. Proceedings in the case began in early January. Kaepernick alleges the NFL conspired to keep him off the field — which is barred in the collective bargaining agreement — blackballing him for his political stance against the treatment of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. He points to the fact that there are 64 quarterback slots in the league, and several with lesser ability have been signed since he became a free agent. Kaepernick must prove the teams colluded, and many legal experts agree he was singled out for his politics, as Axios reported.

Colin Kaepernick currently ranks as the second most popular NFL player after Tom Brady, even while he is not currently playing for a team. His story is not done, but it is clear the athlete and activist already have left an indelible mark on the Black community, backing up his words with action, and challenging others to step up and contribute.


READ MORE AT: http://atlantablackstar.com/2018/01/28/colin-kaepernick-gave-away-one-million-dollars-year-kind-big-deal/

Connect TV By Let’s Buy Black 365

You’ve been starved for positive Black media content for too long. Now, the wait is over. Watch Connect by Let’s Buy Black 365. Your new favorite Black culture & lifestyle show features segments of the best in Black music, culture, education, revolutionary thought, food, health, activism, business, entertainment, and everything. We’re staking the claim that “Black Media is Black Power” and we are Blacking it Out! Mondays 8:00 PM ET.

In Season 1, don’t miss any of the  surprise guests, cameos, giveaways, trips, and more. This programming is brought to you by the Positive Black Media Project team of the Let’s Buy Black 365 movement. Tune in every Monday at 8:PM Eastern.


Connect TV By Let’s Buy Black 365 Season 1 Episode 2


Season 1 Episode 2 – Tribute to & busting myths about Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King’s activism & myths we believe, video challenge responses, Spoken word performance, entrepreneurs practicing Dr. Kings message of Black economic empowerment

Scroll to top