In the three years that passed after the shocking assassination of Malcolm X, the Last Poets formed on May 19, the slain leader’s birthday, in 1968. The Original Last Poets consisted of Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, and gathered at the former Mount Morris Park, now known as Marcus Garvey Park in East Harlem, New York.
The group’s name was taking from a poem Nelson read by South African poet Keorapetse “Bra Willie” Kgositsile, and they combined music and poetry to push Black nationalist themes. By 1969, the Last Poets began to shift and form several times from that point on and in the years to come.
A splinter group born of a Harlem writer’s workshop known as “East Wind” featured Jalaluddin Masur Nurriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, and Nilaja. This grouping is perhaps the most known incarnation of the group, and their recorded output along with their performances cemented them in the minds of many during the Black Power movement of the ’70’s.
The Last Poets began to fade into relative obscurity as hip-hop emerged from the New York boroughs as the ’80’s quickly approached. The group was also targeted by COINTELPRO and put under surveillance like the Black Panthers and other Black militant groups of the time.
Many music scholars credit The Last Poets for forming the early stages of hip-hop, most especially the rapping and rhyming portions. The group inspired other outspoken poets such as Gil Scott-Heron and Gary Byrd among many others. In recent times, rap acts such as Common and the Wu-Tang Clan have featured the Last Poets on tracks.
The group is still in existence to this day.
(Photo: Last Poets album cover)