The Last Poets ought to shame anyone who uses music for anything less than speaking truth and calling for freedom. The pioneers of hip-hop and slam, the Poets built off of the Beats and the Black Power Movement, delivering stinging, brave poems over bare percussion or jazz phrases. They were fFearless in Harlem in 1968 in ways punk or gangsta rap never were — their rage had specific targets and soultions, and their songs called for nothing less but a spiritual, intellectual and physical war against cowardice and complacency. And then they were gone, tragically, well before the time when they could have been huge.
Directed by Claude Santiago, The Last Poets: Made In Amerikkka, is a short (under an hour) peek into the Poets’ reunion concert, as well as a history lesson from its members. They are such a presence in American music history that you’d be right to learn their names: Abiodun Oyewole, Dahveed Nelson, Felipe Luciano, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, and percussionist Babatunde. For their reunion gig, they are aided by legendary drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma, keyboardist Robert Irving III and percussion from Kenyatte Abdur-Rahman.
To say this is essential is well beside the point. Classics reborn incude “Niggers Are Scared Of The Revolution,” “Word To The Wise,” “This Is Madness,” Black Rage,” and “Die, Nigga!” The Last Poets have had to make their legend by word of mouth, as some of the other no-longer-hidden giants have had to do (Velvet Underground come to mind). With their fearless challenges to the status quo, and their poetic prediction of the uses of voice/word/beat, the Poets belong in any discussion of the most important groups of the last 40 years. The Last Poets: Made In Amerikkka celebrates that influence, and gives the members a chance to have their say in the present. They are still fearless.