Along with Gil Scott-Heron, the Last Poets' role in the creation of rap music cannot be overstated, although their 1972 album Chastisement also demonstrates that historical importance does not guarantee universal accessibility. Definitely not easy listening in any sense of the term, Chastisement presents lengthy diatribes set to stripped-down arrangements of conga, bass, and sax, creating a style which one song title dubs "Jazzoetry." The Last Poets' Afro-centric themes are often reverse-racist, but there's no denying the power and intelligence behind such material as "Before the White Man Came," which offers this closing glimpse of regretful culpability: "and now it's been 400 years since that eventful day/but if we had known what they had in mind/they all would have died in the bay/so now we are paying for our mistake/with only ourselves to blame/with memories of the good old years/before the white man came." "Black Soldier" assumes a similar position, merging a mock-marching chant with an anti-Vietnam tirade which condemns black servicemen for indirectly assisting white oppressors back home in the ghetto. Alarmingly prophetic, "Black Soldier" simultaneously reviews past civil disturbances and foreshadows those of the future by proclaiming, "their law enforcement will not work/whatever they conspire/will only serve to make us strong/we will fight fire with fire/no that was not a riot/that they saw down in the slums/that was a dress rehearsal/for things that's yet to come." Far less angry, yet no less compelling, is the musical history lecture entitled "Bird's Word," which traces the development of blues and jazz while mentioning dozens of pioneers including Ma Rainey, Max Roach, Betty Carter, and Sun Ra. The inclusion of a lyric sheet might make Chastisement easier for some to digest by reading rather than listening, but such an education would be incomplete without experiencing the passion and fury of the Last Poets' seminal performances.
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AllMusic Review by Vince Ripol