The Last Poets in 1970; half a century later—and counting—Oyewole is keeping poetry in the moment.
“A founding member of the American music and spoken-word group The Last Poets, Abiodun Oyewole is also known as a founding father of hip hop. Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Erykah Badu, and countless others cite The Last Poets as a major influence. ‘When The Revolution Comes,’ from the Last Poets’ eponymous 1970 debut album, has been sampled in ‘Party and Bullshit,’ by The Notorious B.I.G.; ‘Concerto in X Minor,’ by Brand Nubian; and ‘Prolly,’ by Sevyn Streeter, featuring Gucci Mane. Samples of ‘On the Subway,’ from the same album, have been used by Digable Planets. The list goes on. Oyewole was born Charles Davis, in Cincinnati, but grew up in Queens and regularly attended church in Harlem, a place of congregation, inspiration, and social measurement. His mother encouraged him to recite The Lord’s Prayer at such volume that he could be heard throughout the family home. Also inspiring was the poetry of Langston Hughes and his family’s gospel and jazz records. At 15, out of curiosity, Davis and a friend went to a Yoruban temple, in Harlem. There, the priest performed a ceremony and gave him the name Abiodun Oyewole. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated when Oyewole was 20 years old, and it had a profound impact on him. After the assassination, Oyewole, like many others, was outraged and wanted to take radical action—thanks to a friend and fellow poet, he was able to find positive, creative outlets of expression. As a child, Oyewole had also been made aware of Malcolm X, and heard that he was ‘telling the truth.’ Malcolm X’s importance would eventually loom large for the poet. The Last Poets began as a group when original members David Nelson and Oyewole shared their poems with each other. From that first album onward, they confronted listeners with volatile issues of the day, including urban decay, income inequality, and racism. …”
1960s Days of Rage: The Last Poets (1970)