The Last Poets: Understand What Black Is review – hip-hop progenitors bounce back wiser

(Studio Rockers)

Born in the wake of the civil rights movement, Harlem’s Last Poets performed politically charged spoken word to musical backings. Cited alongside Gil Scott Heron as hip-hop progenitors, there’s some ambivalence to the tag. Not merely a rap history footnote, their work stands alone as “jazzoetry”.

Compelled by a new civil rights struggle, the Last Poets’ first album in over 20 years marks 50 years since their founding. It finds two of the outfit’s members – Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan – musing long and deep to reggae backings, courtesy of Brit producers Nostalgia 77 and Prince Fatty and Poets percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde. This sonic kismet is so obvious, it’s a marvel the Poets never took to reggae previously.

A skank percolates elegantly underneath the gravelly, fatherly tones of Bin Hassan and Oyewole – no longer the young firebrands who furiously indicted systemic racism in the early 70s. Drugs, crime and infighting have plagued their number; the last Poets standing are necessarily wiser and more philosophical. There’s ample disgusted fury here, as tracks like the powerful Rain of Terror attest, but inner strength and enduring creativity are the takeaways from this unexpected record, as well as nods to Prince and Biggie Smalls.

Rain of Terror – video

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kate Tempest: The Book of Traps and Lessons review – personal and optimistic
(Fiction)

Phil Mongredien

16, Jun, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos review – a state-of-the-world address
The poet without borders delivers a second album that places its rich cast of characters against a backdrop of global crisis

Alex Clark

09, Oct, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Kojey Radical review – raw energy and rare charisma
The young British rapper maintains a thrilling stage presence while tackling weighty topics in a bravura performance

Tara Joshi

29, Oct, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Danny Brown review – a thrilling bounce back
Revitalised after a spell in rehab, and touring two of the finest albums of the year, the maverick Detroit rapper revels in a set of high-energy, hardcore joy

Kitty Empire

09, Dec, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Speakers Corner Quartet: Further Out Than the Edge review – flawless hymn to fusion
This long-awaited debut from the south London spoken-word night house band is rich in guests and dark, downbeat textures

Ammar Kalia

04, Jun, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dinner Party: Enigmatic Society review – slinky, synthy R&B
The jazz supergroup without the ego bring an LA breeziness to an album shimmering with 80s synths and G-funk

Kate Hutchinson

16, Apr, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
IDK: F65 review – lush, sprawling soundscapes
The lyrics matter less than the music on the British-American rapper’s overlong but sumptuous jazz-inflected third album

Tara Joshi

07, May, 2023 @12:00 PM

Article image
Ezra Collective: Where I’m Meant to Be review – brilliant follow-up from the inventive party band
This sophisticated second album from the five instrumentalists could just see them cross over to the big league

Kate Hutchinson

06, Nov, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Badbadnotgood: IV review – overflowing with ideas
(Innovative Leisure)

Phil Mongredien

10, Jul, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Ezra Collective: You Can’t Steal My Joy review – celebration of jazz’s diversity
(Enter the Jungle)

Ammar Kalia

28, Apr, 2019 @7:00 AM