The Verse Is Yet To Come
Sounds, September 29, 1984… by Chris Roberts
‘I heard somebody saying things are changin’, changin” said Alafia Pudim on the Last Poet’s debut album in 1970. He, thank God or whatever, hasn’t. Changed. Warm, wary, sincere and riveting – he mirrors the reality which preoccupies him.
The man recently took the Muslim name of Jalal Nuridden. He worked with the uniquely furious bullshit-shattering Last Poets through the early 70s and also committed some charismatic pieces to vinyl under the name of Lightnin’ Rod.
These include the 1973 streetlife classic ‘Hustlers Convention’. A track cut with Jimi Hendrix, ‘Doriella Du Funtaine’, was last month released for the first time on Celluloid Records, who intend, admirably, to re-release The Poets’ ‘This Is Madness’ album and ‘Hustlers Convention’ before the year is out; and who are also putting out ‘Mean Machine’, Jalal’s new single made with D St. and Bill Laswell, and a brand new Laswell-produced Poets effort.
These are material facts – the spirit in this individual story is one of immense courage, belief, and refusal to be told to shut up and take the easy option.
Jalal was politicised in prison in the 60s, being black and outspoken. That was pretty much how it worked.
“Niggers are scared of revolution, but niggers shouldn’t be scared of revolution, cos all revolution is change, an’ all niggers do is change. Niggers are very untogether people” – The Last Poets 1970.
What effect did you have? What was achieved?
“People were able to analyse what was happening with the environment and social conditions. We were able to articulate what the people were feeling. We acted as a valve to let off the steam of the pent-up anger that was building up in the ghettoes, as a result of the oppression that was bringing about material illness.
Oppression is like a sword over your head all the time, they never actually cut your throat, but they give you a li’l nick here ‘n’ there, Y’know? A li’l cut, a li’l slice. Russian roulette. So stress exists as a result of oppression, which is worse than slaughter.”
The Last Poets’ self-titled 1970 album makes me shudder. It is disturbing. Jamal in interview is only slightly less magnificently intense. More than once he asks me to turn the taper recorder off, to “keep things under my hat”. He speaks very quietly, sometimes he whispers. The light is fading and a thunderstorm is approaching.
He makes painful (for me) attempts to appear at ease, but he is distrustful (I think) of how qualified this white boy is to be so thoroughly on his side. Damn right – I must’ve been knee-high to a squashed grasshopper when Jalal first made his considerable presence felt. Jalal has fought through heavier shit than press interviews, but he knows an unavoidably phoney situation when he sniffs one.
Thankfully his current comeback is innately genuine. The single with D St. is venomous enough and the previous night I’d seen him present an honest, bristling, aware and unpretentious impromptu “jam session” rap in the unlikely setting of the Wag Club. It was his first public performance for two and a half years.
“I’ve played clubs before, but not with all the chit-chat. I’ve tended to get people’s undivided attention. But it wasn’t a bad thing, just a strange thing. As long as I got across, I’m pleased. We vibed on each other, that’s cool, it’s a love affair.”
A full quartet of Poets will tour Britain within six months. What’s sparked the revitalisation? What’s brought you back?
“I was in a state of… uh… industry-imposed retirement.”
Yes, why? (Oh Christ he doesn’t trust me…)
“Because I couldn’t get a recording contract.” (He trusts me.) “What it boils down to in America is, if you don’t have a hit record, you can’t get no work. Therefore nothin’ happened. I was just working on reputation.”
It’s annoying for an artist of Jamal’s vision to have to deal with this sort of soulless capitalism.
“It cramps my style. Show business is 75% business and 25% show.” Then he goes off on an inspired tangent.
At this point the tape recorder goes reluctantly off again while he plays me a preview track from the next album. I guess I’m not allowed to tell you it’s dynamite.
What are the new themes coming through? Are there new problems to fight against?
“No, nothin’s new. ‘Cept the breaking of more promises… they give money to the ghettoes but it all gets ripped off by secretaries in big offices; the people get junk. The promise gets replaced by ‘Sorry, you’ll have to wait’. The promise! Ha! The American Dream – two chickens in every pie, a car in every garage…”
Could it ever become reality?
Jalal gives me a look which says “come on now sonny, try harder.”
Is anything getting any better?
“Ah… it’s in the first stage of advanced terminal.”
Which is the crucial issue, whites over blacks or authority over everyone?
“Well it’s authorities manipulating the minds of the people, and that causes racism. The middle classes are used to manipulate the lower classes, and the upper classes manipulate both. There should be education not indoctrination. They should teach you how to make a living.”
What about the characters on ‘Hustlers Convention'(a classic film-like creation, on which, bizarrely enough, the backing was played by Kool & The Gang, who were then also loving on “the edge”) – are these desperate, optimistic, lowlifes products of indoctrination/oppression?
“They’ve rejected indoctrination. They’re out of work and going hustling. They don’t toe the line, they’re their own boss. To hustle means to move fast, to save y’ass. The real hustlers are the authorities who are rippin’ off billions from the unsuspectin’ millions”
Were you personally involved with that scene? “I got a cameo role, yeah.” (Which means – you bet.); “Y’get an education on the streets which ain’t conditioning; it’s reality.”
“Niggers play football, baseball an’ basketball while the white men are cuttin’ off their balls… niggers do a lot of shootin’, niggers shoot off at the mouth, niggers shoot dope in their arm… niggers would **** **** if it could be ******…” – The Last Poets 1970.
Are you advocating militancy? Or are you “simply” painting graphic pictures?
“Lets get into the etymology there, the phonetics, y’ know? Ant. Ant. Milit – ant. A military ant. But who’s got the army, who’s got the big guns? They got their finger on the button, they sellin’ war tickets. They turn it to their satisfaction. They make the hero look like the villain and the villain the hero. I’m not suggesting militancy; it’s awareness.
“We (The Poets) woke up out of a bad dream, a nightmare. They said – that’s not cool, you’re s’posed to act like fools. But we gonna act like wise men!”
I mention Jesse Jackson.
“Well… he got good intentions. Honest decent man. I don’t think he’ll win the game – if you get even close to winni’ the game they change the rules. They say ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. But it can kill you.”
“Niggers love commercials. Niggers loved to hear Malcom rap but they didn’t love Malcom.” – The Last Poets 1970
Jalal recons the people he’s working with now, like Grandmixer D St. and Laswell, share his concern, but the recent glut of popular rappers didn’t impress him at all.
“That depressed me. They came in on the middle of the picture, then they tried to surmise what’d gone on before, without actually seeing the whole. They tried to put it on rewind and start at the top. But they ended at the bottom.”
“Laswell is fantastic, every time. But the other kids were nappin’ when I was rappin’. D St, he said, ‘Jalal’s my pal, a master of his art form. I’m gonna work with him. He’s got roots. Why imitate it or plagiarise it when you can go right to the source?'”
I want to talk about poetry. As in poetry. But by now there is a slight mysterious tension in the room again. It is getting darker. Photos are only allowed to be taken from a set point somewhere over by the other wall.
“I’ve read Whitman, Hiawatha, etc. But we’ll get that another time.”
A false finish. Putting faith in the (sometime) effectiveness of a cliché, I say “Keep it up.” Jalal says, “Just you -” (he means – “A Human Being”) “- saying that makes me consider it an order.”
No doubt he means it. I trust him.
And then we hit an accidental coda.
The next Poets album?
“Everything that needs to be said will be said.”
How long will you go on saying it?
“The struggle is from the womb. It’s not a fad. You add an E and you got fade. This is home-made.”
Why aren’t you a household name in The States?
“The sort of reasons you don’t read about in the paper. The people love us. But from those in power there’s resistance, a sort of non-acceptance.”
Can they stop you?
“They’ll do one of five things. Y’have to turn the tape recorder off…”
The mystery is my story. His story is documentary/drama.