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Last Poets

Last Poets

The radical writers' and musicians' group called the Last Poets grew out of the black arts movement of the late 1960s, performing and recording politically and rhythmically charged messages that prefigured the rap music of the 1980s and 1990s. The Last Poets were formed at a May 1968 gathering in Harlem's Mount Morris Park to commemorate Malcolm X. The members of that groupGylan Kain, Abiodun Oyewole, and David Nelsonwent on to sell more than 300,000 copies of their first album, The Last Poets, which contained such songs as "New York, New York," "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution," and "When the Revolution Comes." These were heated denunciations of racial oppression in the United States set to stripped-down African, Afro-Cuban, and African-American drumming. Nelson soon left the group and was replaced by Felipe Luciano.

The Last Poets appeared in the film Right On! (1969) before an ideological disagreement between Oyewole and Kain caused the members to split into two groups. Kain, Luciano, and Nelson continued to work under the name "Last Poets," as did Oyewole and such new members as Umar Bin Hassan, Suliaman El-Hadi, and Alafia Pudim (later known as Jalaludin Mansur Nuriddin). Albums by the two groups attacked both whites and blacks who compromised on militant positions of black power and social justice, and their comments were often intensified through the use of profanity and offensive language. Despite their initial success, the Last Poets never received a major recording contract and failed to gain a large following. Aside from occasional performances in the United States and Europe, the members of the Last Poets remained cult figures who constantly fought and bickered over the rights to the name.

The rediscovery of the Last Poets by rap musicians in the 1980s helped the members of both ensembles become more active. In 1985, Nuriddin and El-Hadi released Oh My People, followed the next year by a book of poems, Vibes of the Scribes, and the album Freedom Express. In 1990, believing that the success of rap music had paved the way for a comeback, Kain, Nelson, and Oyewole reunited and made a tour of the United States. However, the group failed to recapture its initial popularity. Several albums from Last Poets members, including Holy Terror and Be Bop or Be Dead, were released in the 1990s. Since then the groups calling themselves the Last Poets (Don Babatunde Eton began playing with Oyewole and Bin Hassan) have continued to perform at concerts, often along with 1970s groups such as the Ohio Players and George Clinton's P-Funk All Stars. The Last Poets' spoken word and drums format continued on the 1994 release Scatterap/Home.

See also Black Arts Movement; Dub Poetry Hip-Hop; Poetry, U.S.; Rap


James, Curtia. "Political Snoozers Beware: The Last Poets Are Back." Essence 17 (June 1986): 32.

Mills, David. "The Last Poets: Their Radical Past, Their Hopeful Future, Their Broken Voice." Washington Post (December 12, 1993): G1, G4.

Rule, Sheila. "Generation Rap: Interview with A. Oyewole and Ice Cube." New York Times Magazine (April 3, 1994): 4045.

jonathan gill (1996)

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