The Last Poets

The Last Poets

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If rap could be traced to one logical source point, this exceptional piece of vinyl would be it, without question. Though the strict adherence to syncopated rhythms and standard song structures are absent, all the elements that would later become the hallmarks of hip-hop by the early 1980s (and predictable fare by the 1990s) are here: vivid depictions of street level violence, vivid apocalyptic predictions of racial genocide. All that is missing are pointless party anthems. But running through all the songs on the Last Poets' debut is an urgent sense of the need for radical action in the nation as well as the black community. In addition to railing against the injustices perpetrated by white America, the Poets' comment on the economic and social devastation of drugs ("Jones Comin' Down," "Two Little Boys"), complacency in urban families ("Wake Up Niggers," "When the Revolution Comes"), the emotional release of sex ("Black Thighs"), and the weight of oppression that leads to hopelessness ("Surprises"). At the same time, they warn of the dangers of half-hearted commitment to revolutionary change: "don't talk about revolution until you are ready to eat rats." In the same manner that Marvin Gaye's landmark album What's Goin' On depicted the problems that doomed black culture, the Last Poets are now seen by many as prophets. But also like Gaye, the realization that the problems depicted on The Last Poets are now much worse marks the record as an unheeded warning, far more than just a piece of Black Power kitsch.

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