BOSTON — On May 19, 1968, three poets stepped up to the mic to recite their verses to the rhythm of percussive thrusts, and from that day forward the art of spoken word was altered. The poets had no idea that they were about to make music history. None of them had given what they were doing a name, but each wanted to create an opening in the Black Arts Movement for their chosen form of expression. The poems were hip and the drumbeats were infectious. Words over beats would become a powerful social force for African-American and Latino youth, paving the way for social and political messaging through beats and rhymes.
No discussion about the history of Rap or even about the history of contemporary Spoken Word is complete without mentioning The Last Poets. Clive Campbell, better known as "Kool Herc" or The Father of Hip-Hop, said the vocal style of rap is owed to The Last Poets’ cofounder, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, the Grandfather of Rap.
On June 16th, Abiodun Oyewole, Babatunde Don Eaton, and Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets will be stepping up to a mic as part of the international observance of Juneteenth (June 19), the day in 1865 on which slaves in the state of Texas were emancipated from slavery. This was two years after slavery was officially abolished in the United States, on January 1, 1863 (another reason for us to celebrate New Year’s Day!).
Juneteenth honors African-American liberation and this year in Boston it will be done through poetry and spoken word. There are other Juneteenth activities taking place, but this one caught my attention because I've been following Jesse Winfrey a/k/a Catch Wreck since he was a high schooler, and I’ve been waiting to hear some fresh lyrics from him. I’ve also been meaning to check out Sofia Snow, another rising young star on Boston's spoken word scene. Veteran poet Jamarhl Crawford, and newbie Neiel Israel will bless the mic with their lyricism, too. Jeff Robinson, a saxophonist, and host of The Lizard Lounge Poetry Jam, will accompany this verbal explosion of FREEDOM with his tunes.
I was fortunate to catch Abiodun Oyewole before the show and to get his take on Juneteenth, revolution, Hip-Hop, and the use of the n-word in Rap. He also recited “If We Only Knew What We Could Do,” an original poem about hope.
Get tickets for The Last Poets: Live in Boston on The Blackstonian website.
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About the AuthorBridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.