By MARC MCDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
Today's "controversial" hip hop artists like to think that they're somehow dangerous. But most of these artists wouldn't know "dangerous" if it ran over them on the highway. (Memo to all the "original gangstas" out there: using the "F" word a lot, singing lyrics demeaning to women, and bragging about all your bling-bling is hardly revolutionary).
And speaking of revolutionary, the radical band The Last Poets really were dangerous. In 1968, the band emerged from Harlem with their powerful music (which has often been cited as a prototype for today's rap).
Just how radical were The Last Poets? Well, their 1971 album, This Is Madness was listed by COINTELPRO during the Nixon administration. And any artist who was an enemy of Nixon's goons is a friend to Progressive Music Classics.
In contrast to The Last Poets, it's depressing how apolitical much of today's African-American music is. But given the stranglehold that large media corporations have over today's popular music, it's clear that a band like The Last Poets wouldn't be given the time of day were they to emerge today. Today's music executives want the airwaves to be safe, sanitized, and corporate-friendly.
Hence, corporate-soft-drink-shilling musical mediocrities like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston get all the big record contracts. Black music never sounded so safe and bland. Yes, there are the occasional "controversies" like 2 Live Crew's sexually graphic songs. (Of course, that's just the sort of "controversy" that Corporate America prefers: lots of sex to shift product).
The Last Poets didn't do Pepsi commercials. What they did deliver was red-hot rage and anger, taking on topics like the oppression of African-American people, as well as detailing the many crimes of the U.S. government. Hardly the sort of lyrics that Corporate America wanted young people to be exposed to.
"When The Revolution Comes" is one of The Last Poets' most powerful statements. It is fiercely intelligent, angry poetry at its best, and it spares no targets (including apolitical African-Americans). I only wish today's rappers (with their juvenile lyrics and adolescent-level sexual maturity) were as similarly inspired to comment on the Decline and Fall of the American Empire.
Whatever happened to radical, dangerous, risk-taking music that aimed to inspire, rather than shift lots of units?