David Nelson (Dahveed Ben Israel)

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Lawsuits have occurred almost as frequently as profanities -- OK, that's an exaggeration -- when it comes the group known as the Last Poets. Since much of the wrangling involves claims on the group's…
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Lawsuits have occurred almost as frequently as profanities -- OK, that's an exaggeration -- when it comes the group known as the Last Poets. Since much of the wrangling involves claims on the group's name as well as material and inspiration, it is worthwhile paying attention to this quote from Abiodun Oyewole, definitely one of the real Last Poets if the group's most vocal followers are allowed to have the last word. On the subject of his personal inspirations, Oyewole mentions a poet named David Nelson as one of the "true teachers." Oyewole continues: "He had a whole other thing happening. It was his spirit. You could feel that in the way that he pronounced and the way he presented his words."

Toss in the fact that it was Nelson who came up with the name for the group and it is hard to dismiss him as less than a vital inspiration to this group, despite the fact that he did not perform on This Is Madness, the most famous Last Poets album, a Top Ten charter to wit. The Last Poets album that Nelson does appear on, a film soundtrack entitled Right On!, seems shrouded in controversy -- some of which relates to its producer's somewhat awkward plans for publicizing it. There are critics who describe Nelson's poetry for Right On!, supposedly a documentary about a typical day in the life of the group, as being more sophisticated and intellectual than the group's better-known pieces. Tracks with and without Nelson do share certain colorful language, such as "Niggers Are Afraid of Revolution" from the hit album as opposed to Nelson's even more positive "Die Nigga!" from Right On!

Nelson and fellow poets Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano were brainstorming over a name for the poetry performance collective they had initiated in 1968 when Nelson came up with a quotation from the African writer K. William Kgositile. Among several references in the text to the finality of art or poetry in the social revolution to come was this line: "The only poem you'll hear will be the spear point pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain...." The threesome called their group the Original Last Poets; the name was shortened following the entrance of younger performers such as the aforementioned Oyewole and the brilliant Umar Bin Hassan.

Film producer and director Woodie King, Jr., who had gone to high school in Detroit with Nelson, was one of the forces behind combining these varied, intense talents as well as the money behind the Right On flick itself, financed with his life savings of $100,000. The film won awards and opened to interested reviews, but King's plans to promote it via appearances on mainstream shows such as The Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show were shunned by the various Poets as if they had been offered sets of slave shackles. Nelson's last performances with the Last Poets had taken place by 1972; he later changed his name to Dahveed Ben Israel.