Live Concert Photography: The Last Poets at Rough Trade 6/25/18
Since their formation back in 1968 featuring the initial lineup of Dahveed Nelson, Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano, the highly influential spoken word artists, poets and commentators The Last Poets have produced material and performed under a number of different iterations; however, it was their seminal 1970 self-titled debut featuring the collective’s longest tenured members Umar bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole that would wind up becoming one of the most important and most cited influences for early hip-hop.
Over the past 20 years or so, The Last Poets have largely been on a hiatus but its members, who have since scattered across the US, Europe and Africa have managed to focus on a number of creative pursuits — in particular, bin Hassan has recorded a number of solo albums and has been featured on Common‘s “The Corner,” which appeared on the Chicago-based emcee’s Kanye West-produced, Grammy Award-nominated album Be. Abidoun was featured on the Red Hot Organization’s Stolen Moments, an album that was named Time Magazine‘s Album of the Year — but he’s best known for teaching creative writing at Columbia University and for his weekly open house poetry readings, where he constructively critiques poets and their work and nurtures up-and-coming artists.
Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory and inauguration inspired bin Hassan and Oyewole to resurrect the group to write and record a new album inspired by and commenting on our sociopolitical moment, a moment that manages to echo the one that brought the act together in the late 1960s. Released earlier this year, the Ben Lamdin and Prince Fatty co-produced, Understand What Black Is is the first Last Poets album in over 20 years, and the album reportedly finds bin Hassan and Oyewole speaking of their own personal journeys and struggles but within a larger narrative of a revolutionary struggle defined by race and identity — while sonically speaking, the duo are backed by a reggae and dub-inspired production.
Last month, just before I was heading down to Baltimore for a business trip, I caught the legendary and influential act at Rough Trade for an intimate and stripped down performance that featured a couple of cuts from the album and a Q&A session. Check out photos from the performance below.