The Last Poets, a group of musicians and poets known for their intense activism during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, performed at the Joe Crowley Student Union on Monday, Oct. 1. Their smooth rhythms and powerful words drew an intimate and diverse crowd, and the group held a small meet and greet after the show to answer questions and sign CDs.
Also known as “The Godfathers of Hip Hop”, The Last Poets appropriately kicked off the event with some of their classic slam poetry. Abiodun Oyewole, Uman Bin Hassan and percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde were three out of the seven members of the group to come to UNR. The audience was deeply invested in their performances, with enthusiastic clapping and call-and-response involved in their performance. The show also included humor and light-hearted jokes, as well as dark stories and empowering chants.
Jody Lykes, the Student Development Coordinator for the University of Nevada, Reno, was responsible for putting on the event. Lykes has a Masters of Arts in Gender, Race, and Identity, as well as Educational Leadership. He grew up listening to The Godfathers and decided to bring the power of their performances to UNR students.
“Especially starting last year on campus with all the racial tension, we wanted them to bring their experience and wisdom. They almost want you to get mad at them for saying revolution. But then a the end you realize their message is just to love. So it’s about getting past the hate and getting to the love,” said Jody.
The opening act featured two students from the university, SaMoura Horsley and Sylvia Stephens. These two represented their club, Wolfspeak, which focuses on spoken word poetry. One of their poems, “Nigerian American”, was about the struggle with racial identity growing up as a second-generation immigrant in America. Another was called “Son”, which was done from the perspective of a black mother whose son was shot.
The Godfathers show then began with a drum solo from percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde. Everyone’s claps grew louder and louder as Babatunde started chanting a beautiful song in an African language. The other two Godfathers then came out and began reciting poetry. They performed their most well-known poem, “When the Revolution Comes”, and the crowd went wild. Many of the audience members had grown up listening to The Last Poets, making the performance a sentimental and empowering occasion to witness.
After the show, the group and a attendees went to a back room to mingle and meet the Godfathers.
Many, like Jody, were star struck to be in the same room as these men, whom they had grown up listening to and hearing about on the news. This year marks their 50-year anniversary since the group first came together on May 19th, 1968, in honor of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’s (Malcom X) birthday. They said they celebrated him because he stood for human rights, not just civil rights.
“You know, there’s only one race in the world, and that’s the human race. How can we deal with black and white still? That should be done with,” said one of the Last Poets, Abiodun Oyewole.
The group’s messages were written as far back as the 1960’s, yet they were stunningly similar to the ones Horsley and Stephens portrayed in their performance.
“Things haven’t changed! We want to give the illusion of some change but nothing is different,” said Oyewole. “I appreciate Biggie. I appreciate Tupac. I’m always looking for more inspiration from the younger generation and the younger people. I like what Kendrick Lamar is doing, I’m proud of him. We’re passing the baton, man. We’d like to think that our influence would have somebody say something that makes sense.”
Everyone left the event with a smile. The poets left the crowd feeling empowered, and perhaps even a little rattled. The Godfathers came to do what they have been doing for 50 years: sharing the same message of love and unity.