Watts Fire, Watts Poets


Poetry that kills

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Celebration
What Color is Black?
Pain
There’s a Difference Between a Black Man and a N_gger
Response to a Bourgeois N*gger
from The Watts Prophets: Things Gonna Get Greater, Watts Prophets 1969-1971 (2005, Water Records)

Enter the Watts Prophets. I think it is too simple to say folks like the Watts Prophets and Last Poets can be regarded as the direct roots of Rap music aesthetic. For one, MC’s setting off a party and poets inciting revolution are two different goals. We can’t deny the influences, especially during the Afrocentric era, but what links these two movements–Black Power and Hiphop–together is the struggle to become that voice for communities on the margins–whatever the message. Black Power poets of this generation defined the future politics of Hiphop later manifested with artists like Public Enemy, NWA, X-Clan.

The story of the Watts Prophets’ formation follows the flames of the 1965 Watts Riots. The Los Angeles region of Watts had a long thriving Black Arts movement in the tradition of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman. The Watts Writers Workshop would be started in 1966 by a progressive Jewish Hollywood screenwriter Budd Schulberg. From here, Amde Hamilton, Otis O’Solomon, Odie Hawkins, Richard Dedeaux would meet to craft and perform their pieces. They would later add Dee Dee McNeil, a Motown Contract songwriter, who conducted most of the music accompanyment on their first album, Rappin Black in a White World. By 1975, an FBI-counterintelligence agent had burnt down the Watts Writers Workshop which included a brand new theater and all remnants of the scene.

From hearing these pieces, there is no question that music and politics today is a far cry from the justified Black Rage and urgency the Prophets articulated. This isn’t your normal friendly theatrical spoken word group at your local bougie coffee shop. What you get is a first hand listen to the conflicts, critiques and tensions within the Black Community and rage against systematic White supremacy.

You might recognize the “rapping blacks/facts” chant on Excerpt 1 sample from Digable Planets’ Blowout Comb. Excerpt 1 is made up of the opening pieces–Sell Your Soul/Take It/Instruction/Amerikka. Excerpt 2 opens with Richard Dedeaux’s “Freedom Flames” as it segways to the question of defining “What is a Man”.

In “There’s a Difference…& Response…”, we get the critique of the growing Black middle class. The Black Power movement came at the height of questioning the issue of Integration or Segregation. Adding to the charged content, the Prophets created dynamic stimulating pieces: the clanging chants of “Pain” hitting like hard steel or the ticking alarm clock of linking Blackness beyond skin in “What Color is Black?”

Though timeless as they are, let’s hope one day pieces like these won’t sound so relevant. And yes, if you haven’t found out by now I am one of those folk who believe you can’t talk about race without power so any future arguments of “what if these pieces were white folk talkin wouldnt that be racist” please spare them. Because when that happens, there is an OBVIOUS balance of voices and systems in full effect as we speak (anyone hear Bush talk today?)

-BoogaLeo

blogger’s note: Thanks to Jeff Chang for the info provided in the album insert.

Also, my posts after Sat will becoming less frequent as I will be in New Orleans for a year-long AmeriCorp Fellowship program. So my goal is to whip out as much music as I can until then, so bear with me. Thanks for your constant support and I will be contributing as much as I can out in NOLA. peace.

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  1. It’s amazing

    • Annayal
    • June 14th, 2009

    love this group do not hear from them these days> where are they,,,

  2. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a really good article… but
    what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  3. Link exchange is nothing else however it is just placing the other person’s blog link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do same in favor of you.

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