The Last Poets: America in poetry from black power to Black Lives Matter (via Guardian)

“The Last Poets are the microcosm of black America,” said Umar Bin Hassan, one of the founding members of the group, when I first met him in Harlem, New York, a decade ago. And he’s right: the turbulent and sometimes violent history of this legendary group of African American men who became famous worldwide in the late 1960s and early 70s with self-critical, militant poems (“Niggers are scared of revolution. Niggers love anything but themselves”) not only influenced generations of hip-hop and soul artists – such as Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Ice-T, 2Pac, Common, Mos Def and Erykah Badu – but also the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Their fluent and funky conga-rhythms transformed poetry into rap (a novelty at the time, though perhaps not today).

Umar Bin Hassan, now 68, is in a position to reflect on their remarkable collective strength, resilience and hope. The Poets always bounced back, no matter how much they struggled – and boy, did they struggle. Umar, in particular, lived on the streets as a crack addict for years and found success very hard to handle. Growing up in a ghetto, where he was told “You ain’t shit” from a very young age, Umar worked as a shoeshine boy in a red-light district to escape his father’s abuse. Racism, poverty and social exclusion left their destructive marks on him; as Bin Hassan put it in one of his autobiographical poems: “Self-hatred wrapped up in a twisted, demented but well-controlled smile.”

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Links:

The Guardian | Umar Bin Hassan

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