1/ Niggers Are Scared of Revolution (Hassan) 5.23 2/ Am (Hassan) 7.59 3/ Bum Rush (Hassan) 5.29 4/ This Is Madness (Hassan) 5.27 5/ Malcolm (Hassan) 6.23 6/ Pop (Hassan) 4.41 7/ Love (Hassan) 6.07 8/ 40 Duece Street (Hassan) 3.48 9/ Personal Things (Hassan) 4.30 10/ This Is Madness (Metal Mix) (Hassan) 5.33 Recorded at Greenpoint Studio, Brooklyn, New York Engineering: Oz Fritz, Robert Musso and Bruce Calder Mixed at Greenpoint by Oz Fritz for High Velocity Assistant: Imad Mansour Produced by Bill Laswell Mastered at Masterdisk by Howie Weinberg Axiom: Peter WetherbeeUmar Bin Hassan & Abiodun Oyewole: voices; Bernie Worrell & Amina Claudine Myers: Hammond B-3; Bootsy Collins: guitar; Bill Laswell: bass, beats; Foday Musa Suso: kora, dousongonni, percussion, voice; Buddy Miles: drums; Aiyb Dieng: chatan, percussion, congas; Guilherme Franco: congas, berimbau, percussion; Anton Fier: drum loops; ASANTE - Will, Warren, Pharoah & Andre: vocals.
1993 - Axiom/Island (USA), PR12 6794-1 (Promo Vinyl) 1993 - Axiom/Island (USA), 518 048-1 (Vinyl) 1993 - Axiom/Island (USA), 518 048-2 (CD) 2016 - Bill Laswell Bandcamp (digital only)Note: The US vinyl is an Acappella version containing tracks 1-5, 8 and 9.
Tracks: 10 at 55:33
Producers: Bill Laswell
Profanity: Yeah, but it's all right.
Let me reiterate: I don't do non-HipHop reviews.
But, man, if The Last Poets aren't Hip Hop then what is? You tell me.
The Last Poets, of course, get much dap in the Hip Hop Nation as being in the forefront of Hip Hop (we're talking 1970, people), before it ever got its name. They were political, to say the very least, funky and had a vocal style that came off like a poetry reading.
I will defer to more knowledgeable sources for more info on the Last Poets. Professa Rap suggests the May 1992 issue of THE SOURCE for a good article on Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets, including "a good history of both, with a decent discography."
Speaking of Gil Scott-Heron, he remains probably the most well-known of the folks of that period. But, there was also Umar Bin Hassan (who used to call himself Omar ben Hassan, apparently). And it is he who has returned with Be Bop or Be Dead.
Now some of the tracks on this album are remakes, but the vocals have been re-cut. Umar is joined by Abiodun Oyewole, Bernie Worrell, Amina Claudine Myers, Bootsy Collins, Bill Laswell, Foday Musa Suso, Buddy Miles, Aiyb Dieng, Guilherme Franco, Anton Fier and Asante (Will, Warren, Pharoah, Andre).
So... let us begin.
We open with "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution."
"Niggers are scared of revolution But niggers shouldn't be scared of revolution Because revolution is nothing but change And all niggers do is change"This is, of course, a classic (copyright 1970, no less; man, I was--what?--one?). Umar's voice is strong and forceful throughout this five and a half minutes of non-stop lyrical pipe. The background music perfectly complements his style. Heavy drum-drum.
"Niggers shoot guns and rifles on New Year's Eve A new year that is coming in Where White police will do more shooting at them Where are niggers when the revolution needs some shots? Yeah you know niggers are somewhere shooting the shit"This is a very well written track and certainly among the best on the album.
"I love niggers Because niggers are me And I should only love that which is a part of me I love to see niggers go through changes Love to see niggers act Love to see niggers make them plays and shoot the shit But there is one thing about niggers I do not love Niggers are scared of revolution"This track is probably worth the price of admission alone.
Luckily, we don't have to worry about it because "Am" follows immediately. What's interesting about these two tracks is that while one is from 1970 and the other from 1993 both speak with equal validity and forcefulness for either period.
"Welcome! Welcome to the revolution where ex-CIA madmen go AWOL in children's cartoons No deposit No return" "Bloated egos with small minds baptizing murder in the name of God and everything we hold sacred Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck! Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck! Forever let us hold our banners High! High! High!"The music in "Am" does not create the same feeling of urgency as "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution." Instead it seems a bit sadder. Music written for a less urgent time, perhaps? Or just a sadder time?
"What happened to the rhythm?" "Somewhere I hear a revival Somewhere I hear Bop playing in the faces of old southern men full of northern pain" "And I hear the voice of nature whisper the victory is yours if you want it The victory is yours if you want it"Anyway, it's a damn good track. Eight minutes later, we move to "Bum Rush."
"The streets are calling The streets are calling There's always the street From shoe shine boys to to big time to trick or treat Trapped in the silence of primal screams abandoned buildings and part time dreams The early signs became the later rage The latest death at an early age Young bold and unafraid Number one tunes on the hit parade"Umar is in top form on this track and so is the band behind him. More percussion, as in "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution," make this an exceptional piece.
"Uzis millimeters and Italian rags Gucci watches and body bags Designer jackets Designer shoes Old-fashioned bullets with designer blues"Damn.
Anyway, it all heats up again with "This Is Madness," another classic.
"And I see Malcolm's spirit His eyes burning red black and green flames and crying tears of Thunderbird wine that seem to touch my lips and make me become thirsty for a taste of Freedom"Again, the music lends a sense of urgency and a focused confusion to Umar Bin Hassan's words.
"And my realities have turned into a stone figuration of Miss Liberty as she stands on the corners of the world selling herself to anyone with the head of George Washington on them And all the while he sits on a throne of eagle shit with DDT in one hand and a white tornado in the other wearing a crown of castrated Black dicks and reading the non-violent thoughts of Ghandi"It becomes clearer why the latter day would-be inheritors of this style (from the Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy to Professor X) fall short in one way or another (even when they're good). They lack the same urgency of voice because much of the urgency is in the cadence of the spoken words and the rhythms of energy in the music... both the vocalist's and the attending musicians'. There is an almost nervous energy here, but it maintains an odd feeling of promise quite unlike the cynicism of the 90s.
Anyway, "Malcolm" slows us down a little bit, but not much. This is an odd mixture what has come before with a subtle 1990s Hip Hop stylin'.
"They will respect my mother They will remember my father I have the flag... I have the flag... It did not touch the ground"But it works.
"Trying to be taught what you already know" "I love it so much I hate it It scares me It fascinates me" "I love you brother I have always loved you I know that tune I grew up with that tune I love my people I love my people If they could just learn how to love themselves"It works well, as a matter of fact.
"Pop," at four minutes and forty one seconds clocks in as one of the shortest tracks. It's also one of the only times that the msuic overpowers Umar.
"Brand new cars Same old sleep Brand new shoes Same old creep Brand new hello Same old friend Brand new goodbye Same old end"I like the track, but it is a strange one. Again, there's that mixture of styles. It works, but it takes some getting used to.
The same is true of "Love," at least a little bit. The music doesn't jibe with Umar's style as well as the rest of the tracks do. It's quite disconcerting in a way, but then somehow it matches what I take as the disconcerting journey of the song.
"Hard laughter disguising softer fears" "One night I was truly seeking I was standing inside the rain As Love passed, it whispered 'Time to leave the pain I'm here whenever you need me I am the beckoning call I can be your rise to glory or the madness before the fall'"And, in fact, by the time the song ends, Umar's voice and the music seem in harmony again.
"40 Deuce Street" is the shortest track at 3:48. Nice muzak.
"40 Deuce Street is nothing new It's always been there for me and you For people who seek that fast road to glory Who can open the book but can't read the story" "Premediated murderers of their own sanity" "That is what I learned on 40 Deuce Street"And this brings us to "Personal Things."
"Time in becomes time out Group anxieties become personal doubt"The music is especially good on this one. Makes you bop your head and rotate your shoulders, if you know what I mean.
"Turned into robots through the power of suggestion We seek an answer and become the question Afraid we might die before we live Blessed with life but then afraid to give We want to be amorous, glamorous and larger than life Our cheap illusions become high priced strife Losing ourselves in times of despair Become self-defeatists of unusual flair"It's a nice way to end the new stuff on the album.
"We confuse the normal and exhort the extreme We make war reality and make peace a dream"Damn good track.
And so it ends. The final track is "This Is Madness (Metal Mix)." It doesn't matter, it's still good, but I do prefer the interpretation of track #4.
Bottom line? This is the album to get. If you were like me, curious about the Last Poets, but unsure about what to do about it, pick this up. It's a good place to start.
And if you weren't curious, then buy it anyway. Break open the piggy bank and go pick up Me'Shell NdegeOcello's Plantation Lullabies and Umar Bin Hassan's Be Bop or Be Dead. Look for the first under "N" and the latter either under "H" or see if you find it where I did: under "L" for Last Poets.
Just about each track is a masterpiece of poetry and music. And the album gets better the more and more you listen to it. You've slept on 'em for too long already. It's time to wake up.
But that's just one Black man's opinion--what's yours?
Charles L Isbell, Jr. (courtesy of The Homeboy From Hell website)