Fifty years ago The Last Poets formed as a group in Marcus Garvey Park on what would have been Malcolm X’s 43rd birthday. The outspoken minister and activist was killed three years earlier in 1965 amidst civil rights turmoil in the country and a serious disagreement with Nation Of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. The group emerged with their self-titled album in 1970 and took America to task for its racism as a trio of two poets and a percussionist. Their Pro-Black poetry was in the same class as the work of Gil Scott-Heron who also admonished America’s racist practices with the eloquence of jazz.
It has been 20 years since The Last Poets released Time Has Come. Black Lives Matter, Trump, and the overall feeling that America has not changed since they started making music five decades ago brought them out of retirement to record Understand What Black Is. The new music is just as fiery as some of their favored jewels like “Niggas Is Scared Of Revolution” and has a distinct jazzy dub sound. The album is also a celebration of their 50th anniversary as a group. Hip-hop and rap music gets so much of its passion, rhythm, and candidness from The Last Poets. Members Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Baba Donn Babatunde recently answered some emailed questions about Understand What Black Is and their view of America today.
“Malcolm X was about human rights”-Abiodun
It’s been a while since your last album, what is it about this time that made you want to create new music?
Umar: The fact that we are alive and able to do this after 50 years and the changes we have been through as men in the black community, we look at things differently and more wisely as we are older and wiser.
Baba: And we are in Trump time.
Abiodun: To let it be known that The Last Poets are alive and well, and we are still thinking and we are still very vibrant when it comes to our thoughts and the world we live in.