“I pawned my sister’s record player for $25 and bought a Greyhound bus ticket for $15 and I ended up in New York City in 1969 with twenty-two cents in my pocket and one extra pair of jeans.” -Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets
Many people claim to be Hip-Hop heads or even Hip-Hop historians. However, if you have no knowledge of the iconic spoken word group The Last Poets, then you don’t know what Hip-Hop is really about at all. In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to pay homage to the group that is considered by many to be the originators of the Hip-Hop genre.
A group of musicians and poets known as The Last Poets started to emerge in the late 60’s during the black nationalist movement. The Last Poets officially formed on May 19th, 1968 (birthday of Civil Rights activist Malcolm X) in Mount Morris park in East Harlem. Original members included Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, David Nelson, Nilaja Obabi, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan. The lineup of the group would change throughout the years with Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan continuing on as the group’s two original performing members. The actual name “The Last Poets” was derived from a poem titled “A Walk Towards The Sun” written by South African revolutionary poet Keorapetse Kgositsile who believed that he was living in the last era of poetry, music and art before guns would take over.
After seeing The Last Poets perform in 1968 at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Umar Bin Hassan, a native of Akron, Ohio decided that he wanted to join the group. So, in 1969 after being forced out of his hometown of Akron for inciting a riot, Umar Bin Hassan pawned his sister’s record player for $25, bought a Greyhound bus ticket for $15 and went to New York with a hope and a dream. After reconnecting with The Last Poets in New York City, Umar Bin Hassan was asked to perform a poem titled “Motherfucker” before a group of college students. He was then told that he had to meet their approval in order to join The Last Poets. After the college students approved of his poetry, Umar Bin Hassan officially became a Last Poet and was asked to never perform his poem “Motherfucker” again by group member Abiodun Oyewole.
The Last Poets often gathered at their loft, East Wind, located in Harlem. In order to pay the rent for East Wind, The Last Poets would hold shows there and host notable guests such as well known Black Panthers Assata Shakur and Afeni Shakur (Tupac Shakur’s mother). The group reached Top 10 Chart success with their self-titled debut album The Last Poets in 1970 and followed up with their 1971 classic This Is Madness. More recently, The Last Poets gained fame for being featured on Common’s 2005 hit song “The Corner” produced by Kanye West off of Common’s 2005 album Be.
Although The Last Poets are not considered a household name like a Jay-Z or Kanye, there is no denying the huge impact that they have had on Hip-Hop music and culture as a whole. The influence from The Last Poets is heard everyday in many of your favorite songs. Also, if it weren’t for trailblazing groups like The Last Poets, Hip-Hop music would have never evolved into the giant that it is today. The Last Poets are true icons and legends of Hip-Hop music!
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