The Last Poets have a storied history. Since their founding in 1968, the group's proto-rap poetics have gone on to be sampled by and influence everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Digable Planets to Common to Brand Nubian to Biggie and beyond. And now, the long-running group, which today consists of original members Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole alongside longtime percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde and bassist/producer Jamaaladeen Tacuma, return with fresh material.
A new album, Transcending Toxic Times, will be released via Ropeadope on May 10. In advance of that, Complex is proud to premiere the group's track "Young Love," featuring Malik B, a founding member of the Roots.
Umar Bin Hassan explained to Complex the vision behind the track. “‘Young Love’ is about a young man who really wants to live even though he knows he’s deeply in the throes of death,” the poet said. “He has a deep love for the streets and just doesn’t know how to get away. I wrote this piece with the hope that young boys who were enthralled in the fast life would forget the money, forget the glitz, forget the glamour and get away. Because these streets are a beast. They will kill you and then come to your funeral.”
Malik B was thrilled to appear on the track, since he's been a longtime fan of the group.
“I first became interested in the Last Poets as a youth because of my friendship with Sulaiman's sons, Qadafi and Sufwan,” he remembered. “I met them in Brooklyn at Marcy projects and they also used to perform in the Islamic community at various Eid events after the close of Ramadan so we were familiar. I was always interested in poet Umar Bin Hassan because of his inspirational messages that spoke of inner city life elements and narratives that were prevalent at the time. His poetry seemed to be telling the stories of so many people’s that I knew. It resonated with me instantly and from a hip-hop perspective since the Last Poets are the cannons of the genre and I, like every artist in my time looked to them for the pulse of the people and accurately telling the story of the streets. I love the jazz be-bop-skid-op syncopated rhythms. When I heard this song ‘Young Love,’ various elements of my experiences and the things I’ve witnessed in the inner city personally or as an observer came to mind. I am grateful to the creator and humbled to have my voice heard on the Last Poets album Transcending Toxic Times and hope the youth of today will be inspired the way I was when I heard the Last Poets for the first time.”
Producer Tacuma called the track “a heart-wrenching story and gives us a small glimpse of the life of many young black men in America.”
“The line ‘the opera unfolds’ lets you know that something tragic is in the mix,” he continued. “The senseless black on black crime, the lure of the street life and the devastation that results from it all is the message here. Umar clearly gives the full account. Top it off with the respectful input of MC Malik B of the legendary Roots from a younger generation and what you have now is a cross-generational alliance telling the same story calling everyone to take a listen and be moved to positive action to hopefully to make ascension to human excellence.”
Oyewole weighed in as well. “‘Young Love’ is a beautiful tribute to the young street brothers who have made street life their stable. I appreciate Malik's contribution as well. I think it's a good blend of rap and poetry. I also appreciate the blend of their vocal styles. The last line of Umar's poem is a tear-jerker.”
You can listen to “Young Love” above.