Donnerstag, 13. April 2017

Last Poets - At Last (1976)

It was the combination of poetry with almost-frighteningly intense rhythm tracks, mostly done on hand drums, that helped create the Last Poets' reputation for being way ahead of the curve on the entire development of what would come to be called rap music.

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.


A1In Time And Space
A2The Courtroom
A3Death Row
A4Picture In Blue
B3Uncle Sam's Lament
B4The African Slave
B5Ode To Saphcallah
B6In Search Of Knowledge

Last Poets - At Last (1976)
(192 kbps, cover art included)

9 Kommentare:

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

I recognize the importance of the Last Poets' work historically but frankly always had problems with the occasional homophobia, assertion of male primacy, and anti-Semitism in their lyrics.

One of the saddest lessons of U. S. history is that invariably intolerance and oppression do not necessarily ensure that the oppressed and victimized acknowledge from their own struggle for equality, human rights, and justice that the concept of "the other" is inherently toxic. One would think that at some point those who have experienced the harshness, criminal injustice, and maltreatment of racism and bigotry inherent in a system based on unrestrained capitalism and white supremacy would recognize that prejudice and intolerance of others perpetuates the warped supremacist malevolent values that were used as justification for their mistreatment. My African-American friends and I, being former project kids, discuss these issues and agree that, in essence, we must recognize that we are all dogs fighting for scraps off the table.

Fortunately one of my four great-grandfathers demanded that his children "never do to others what was done to us" here and in his native country and that demand has been transmitted for three generations including most recently to my children even if many members of my extended family have not abided by it as they have assimilated and adopted the views and culture of what they believe to be the majority. Regrettably in this era of Trump, Wilder, Le Pen, and their ilk and the militarization of police forces throughout my country, the message of the Poets, Heron, Roach, and others is still necessary even if many have stopped listening.

In brief, although I like and agree with much of what the Last Poets espoused and acknowledge their impact on hip hop, I prefer Gil Scott Heron lyrics and equally powerful jazz recordings like Max Roach's "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite". Notwithstanding, thank you for posting this and so much of their other work. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much is that you keep alive important voices and music from my country that might otherwise be forgotten, the Poets, Barbara Dane, the Seegers, Ewan MacColl, etc. I can’t think of any other blog that does so as consistently as you do, so what you do is invaluable musically and historically.

zero hat gesagt…

Thanks a lot for your very important comment, it´s good that you call attention to the occasional homophobia, assertion of male primacy, and anti-semitism in their lyrics.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

The occasional prejudices and bigotry in the lyrics of the Last Poets and, for that matter, in the writing of great writers and poets like Amiri Baraka, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Jack London and too many others reflect attitudes that were too prevalent and often widely accepted during the times in which they lived. Being far from perfect myself, I try to take a longer view rather than simply condemn their ignorance and regard such faults and blemishes as reflections of how human, fallible, and reflective of their time they were. Yet I can still appreciate their work even if such bigotry diminishes my regard for some of their work or them personally. I usually reflect on how much has changed regarding the acceptability of proclaiming such ideas and opinions since their era.

For example, when I was in high school the writings of Herman Hesse were very much in vogue here and, in particular, "Steppenwolf" was widely read and, of course, John Kay's band was named after it. As a fourteen year-old I read the novel quickly and naively admired the hero’s perspective on modern society.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

When I re-read the novel in college for a German seminar on Hesse, I was surprised at how reactionary and hostile Hesse's hero’s views were when he was when discussing his opinion of jazz and other modern cultural and artistic developments which I regarded as positive contributions from my country to the world. In fact, Harry Haller’s condemnation of jazz struck me as racist. Reading such opinions in Hesse's writings and, too, maturing from when I was a young teenager significantly changed my perspective on much of Hesse's work. Similarly when Guenter Grass belatedly acknowledged that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS in World War II, it significantly affected my opinion of him personally and especially on his personal standing as a moral voice in post-World War II Germany; however, it did not cause me to doubt why he won the Nobel Prize or throw out his novels and plays in the original German or in English translation that I own.

I don't think we can ever be sanguine or silent about bigotry and racism or unaware of the harm that even merely expressing such sentiments in lyrics and literature does. But once we assess the impact of such moral and ethical outrages on the overall work of artists,

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

regard them in their historical context, and clearly reject and denounce them, I hope we don't simply dismiss the importance of their work based on retroactive outrage. Hindsight from several decades later can so easily be a platform for smug condemnation and pontification that leads to facile dismissiveness of work, like the Poets, that matters. I hope the answer for us listeners several decades later is, in part, to think about why such views were so readily expressed and what they reflect of the times then and now.

Sadly such issues are more than reflections on bygone eras today in my country. We have a president who readily makes racist and bigoted statements that sew division and fear in my country and hostility towards other peoples and nations. Moreover, he readily acknowledges, almost proudly, that he doesn’t read and lacks any larger historical or political perspective. Consequently he makes belligerent remarks that reflect reckless brinkmanship and may eventually result in war. I reference his example because he has often been given a pass in our media and by his admirers under the assumption that he doesn’t really mean what he says or tweets. I also vividly remember when Bill Clinton condemned Sister Souljah for her remark on race. More recently, Trump has denounced

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

the television show “Blackish” as racist and claimed any show named “Whitish” would be be widely condemned as racist. His remarks show he clearly misses the point of a comedy show about an upper-middle class African-American family which appeals to a wide multi-racial audience. Moreover, his and Clinton’s remarks show the mainstream media’s receptivity to pointing to allegedly inappropriate or racist remarks, many of which are taken out of context, by prominent African-Americans. For example, Shirley Sherrod, an African American Department of Agriculture official in the state of Georgia was prematurely fired by the Obama administration after the Breitbart blog posted a video deliberately taking remarks she had made out of context to falsely portray her as a black racist discriminating against white farmers.

Such instances of racial opportunism made me very tentative when considering whether I should address the discriminatory issues within the Poets’ lyrics especially when I consider that the current president has freely made racist, bigoted, and misogynistic remarks during his campaign and presidency with relative impunity. I was reluctant to risk my remarks being misconstrued as contributing to what has been a double standard and portrayed in our mainstream media as a false equality of both sides doing it.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

What is too often missing with respect to coverage of Trump’s remarks is any in-depth analysis of the adverse impact such remarks have on the comity of the public and the sentiments and actions they incite in and by those who take them at face value and accept them as indisputably true. Unlike the Poets’ work, Trump’s statements cannot be viewed from a context offering any larger redemptive or worthwhile value to his statements. They stand alone as toxic to any effort to unite people based on recognition of shared values and humanity and, unlike the Poets, provide no meaningful insight into what “ails” us in today’s United States or the world.

On the other hand, much of the Poets’ work, such as their outrage, trenchant analysis of de facto and de jure racism in this country, and effort to enhance black consciousness, still speaks across the decades to race relations (or lack of relations) in today’s United States. For that reason, like Gil Scott-Heron, they are a seminal influence on hip-hop. My hope is that, in contrast to the relevance of their work over time, the bigotry and vulgarity of Trump’s oral and written remarks will be relegated to the dustbin of history and regarded decades from now as a reactionary deviation from what Dr. Martin Luther King referenced as “the arc of the moral universe” when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

Or as Michael Eric Dyson writes in his most recent book “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America”, at a time when we have elected the scariest racist demagogue in a generation, we must rely on a language of moral repair as a common language and tool of analysis. Scott-Heron often wrote in such language as in the haunting "Winter In America” to implore us to recognize the injustice and destruction wrought by white supremacy and racism in this country. Being black nationalists, the Poets offered no such vision nor were they compelled to because their audience was more specific and unconcerned with the reaction of the then clearly demographically dominant white community. Still, they had to know that their economic success depended in part on sales beyond the black community. I suspect my ashes will long be scattered and the unwillingness of white Americans to discuss race and the cruel legacy that such a scientifically bankrupt concept has established for those whose skin color is different with still threaten the viability of this experiment we call the United States.

I've gone on long enough and certainly exceeded my comment limit for some time to come. I always appreciate your indulgence of my verbosity as well as your and others’ responses to my remarks. Thanks so much.

zero hat gesagt…

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us. Always inspiring!

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