I discovered The Last Poets when I was a student at Howard University. I don’t remember exactly how I first came upon their poems or who introduced me to their recordings–it might’ve been a PBS special I saw–but I know that once I heard them, I felt like I’d found something special. These guys are spitting the truth, I thought. Of course it was the truth of the late 1960s and early ’70s, some 30 years prior, but their words seemed authentic to my time. Niggas were scared of revolution. That’s why we had to choose between Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, and when the courts determined that Bush won, we did nothing about it. That’s why when Howard tried to shut down funding of the school paper I worked for, only a handful of my cohorts backed me to storm the president’s office in order to save it. (Result: The most orderly storming I’d ever witnessed and elimination of our funding.) Anyway, I, like The Last Poets, surmised that when the revolution came, niggas wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Several of The Last Poets including Umar Bin Hassan, the featured poet on “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution!”, and Jalal Mansur Nuriddin are Muslim converts. My favorite Last Poet, Abiodun Ayewole, the featured poet on “When the Revolution Comes,” is not. It’s clear, though, that the group was influenced by the black nationalism and militancy popular among African American Muslims of that time. It’s also clear that “conscious hip-hop” has been influenced by them. Common, Nas and dead prez have featured the Poets on their albums. dead prez also sampled them on their song “Turn Off the Radio (Radio Freq).”
The Last Poets are good for stirring up righteous indignation. I just may have to go out and replace my copies of their CDs that I lost.