In the midst of the civil rights and black nationalism movements, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin went to jail for evading his Vietnam draft notice. There, he converted to Islam and met Omar Ben Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole. Once out of jail, the three men came to Harlem with their original poetic style, a mixture of spoken-work and jazz that laid the earliest framework for rapping. The officially formed The Last Poets on May 16, 1969 (Malcolm X’s birthday). Fusing jazz with its African origins, melding the ancient musical and lyric tradition in black history, The Last Poets protested racism, injustice, and oppression. Their 1971 album This Is Madness got them on Richard Nixon’s Counter-Intelligence Program list. They reemerged on the hip hop scene in the 1980s during rap’s first decade of popularity. Since then, they’ve been universally acknowledged as early founders on hip hop. Rappers like Nas, KRS-1, Common, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West have have maintained rap’s close ties to spoken word poetry, some by sampling Last Poets records in their songs.
“When the Revolution Comes” by The Last Poets (1970)
“This Is Madness” live by The Last Poets (1971)
“The Corner” by Common feat. The Last Poets (2005)
The Last Poets in the 1960s. Credit: Post-Gazette.com