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Malik Yusef Jones

Spoken word artist Malik Yusef was born Malik Yusef Jones on April 4, 1971 in Chicago, Illinois. Yusef was raised on Chicago’s Southside in the neighborhood commonly referred to as the “Wild 100’s.” As a teenager, Yusef became a member of the Islamic street gang, the Blackstone Rangers. During this time, he also overcame his challenge with dyslexia.

Yusef began performing spoken word in open mic venues in the late 1980s. He had his first big break in 1997 when Ted Witcher, director of the film, Love Jones, recognized his poetry and hired him to coach the film’s lead actor, Larenz Tate. In 2002, Yusef along with jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips collaborated on the song “This Is Not A Game,” which was selected by Michael Jordan to appear on the CD that came with the purchase of limited edition Jordan 17 sneakers. That same year, he performed his poem entitled “I spit...” on the Grammy-winning second season of HBO’s Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam.” He released his debut album in the compilation of The Great Chicago Fire; A Cold Day in Hell in 2003. Yusef has performed at “The Art of Love Tour” featuring Raheem DeVaughn and Chrisette Michele; the “Real Thing Tour” featuring Jill Scott & Raheem DeVaughn; “Touch the Sky Tour” featuring Kanye West & Keyshia Cole; the Carl Thomas & Mary J. Blige Tour; and the Glow in the Dark Tour featuring Kanye West. In 2007, Yusef collaborated with Director Frey Hoffman for the film adaptation of his poem “Hollywood Jerome.” Kanye West and Yusef released the album Good Morning & Good Night in 2008.

Yusef received a Peabody Award nomination in 2000 and was the Truth Award “Spoken Word Artist of the Year” from 2001 to 2005. In 2006, Kanye West’s CD, Late Registration, which featured Yusef’s poetry on the song “Crack Music” was awarded a Grammy Award. That same year, Yusef won an Independent Film Project Award for Hollywood Jerome. He was also awarded the “Best Poet” by the Chicago Music Awards from 2002 to 2008.

Yusef is the father of three children and resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Yusef was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 17, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.090

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/17/2008

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Middle Name

Yusef

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Ronald Brown Academy

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Malik

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

JON21

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Lucia

Favorite Quote

The Illusion Is Everyone Wants The Truth, But The Truth Is Everyone Wants The Illusion

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

4/4/1971

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Mangoes, Broccoli

Short Description

Spoken word artist Malik Yusef Jones (1971 - ) was a Peabody Award nominee, has worked and toured with music acts such as Kanye West, Mary J. Blige and Keyshia Cole, was the Truth Award "Spoken Word Artist of the Year" between 2001 and 2005, and has appeared on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam.

Employment

Love Jones

Favorite Color

Fuschia

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Malik Yusef Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Jones Brothers

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his great uncle, Hubbard Smith

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's activism

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his relationship with his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his mother's abuse, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his mother's abuse, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his father's involvement in SNCC

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers selling narcotics

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his learning disabilities

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his mother's depression

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's home improvement skills

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the history of gangs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers joining the Blackstone Rangers

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his route to Chicago Vocational High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his early years as a Blackstone Ranger

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the gang activity at Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his studies at Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his personality as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls leaving Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Blackstone Rangers' connection to the Moorish Science Temple

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Blackstone Rangers' community service

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers Mayor Harold Washington's death

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers selling crack cocaine

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the drug trade in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poem

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the drug trade in the white community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his early poems

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the poem he wrote for his son's mother

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his poem, 'The Ceremony'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poetry reading

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poetry slam

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls performing at the Spices Jazz Bar in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about the Public Place of Amusement laws

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones recall gaining prominence as a poet

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the atmosphere at the Spices Jazz Bar

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls defending a white patron at the Spices Jazz Bar

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers Maria McCray

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the growth of his poetry career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls filming 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the premiere of 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the positive response to 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his relationship with women

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his start in the music industry

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first collaboration with Kanye West

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes Kanye West

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about music and poetry

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about the negative influence of rap music

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his art's message

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his children

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 1
Malik Yusef Jones remembers his start in the music industry
Transcript
You were talking about how you first--your first big poem (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, I was sitting at home and like I said, it was these commercials then it was another one after that, then ano- then like four commercials in a row with like these beautiful white women and I thought you know, well they women they beautiful. I mean the dopest here on the planet Earth. There's nothing better, the the greatest thing that Earth has to offer is a woman. That's Earth's masterpiece of all things that are on the planet. A female human is the masterpiece. Well I was just like well why ain't no pretty black women on TV you know what I'm saying? They always got us represented you know through the media at our worst. It's always a woman and not that I'm not I don't think that gold teeth are unattractive but she's just not at her best you know what I'm saying and they put them on TV at their best. Not disheveled. The right lighting, the right makeup, the right movement, the right music and they don't put our sisters on on there like that, that's fucked up. 'Cause [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou is beautiful and she's, she doesn't have a commercial. And that's not right. [HistoryMaker] Diahann Carroll, even though she's older now, but there's beauty in the crone's stage and she doesn't have a commercial. So. I remember Alice Walker saying that writers are people who tell a story of some- of what has happened, what is happening, what will happen or more importantly what can happen. So I decided to give an anthem to black women, women of color but black women in particular. And I mean black when I say black I mean African, West Indian, African American, Haitian, black people you know. And I wrote a poem called 'If Roses Came in Black' [Malik Yusef Jones]. And that's still to this day one of my most requested poems and I wrote that in 1993.$$Can you give us a piece of it?$$I'm shy man.$$Okay.$$"If roses came in black that is exactly what you'd be. Reborn every spring throughout eternity and if a single black swan could swim in the lake and watching her take flight, your heart just might break and if the sun could shine a twilight and warm the earth at midnight, it would be in very special honor of you. I know you love beautiful thangs, I can kind of tell they love you too, if copper bells rang and church choirs sang each and every time your mouth would open but through all this extravagance please don't forget our romance and that's all that I've been hoping and when God allows, when God allows the flap of the bird's wings to open up those dark skies and that same black bird song she sang, opened my closed eyes and if a black butterfly could do her springtime dance and whosoever witness and be trapped in a forever trance with time I have to take my chance and if I will be captured at least it was worth one glance and if I could but only if I could I'll remind the entire earth of all types of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. A nutritious part of my balanced diet, good for you and delicious too, no man in the world could deny it and if I could, yes love, only if I could I would forever feast on black cherries then make my mouth wet with the sweet nectar of the darker berries uncovering you like a whole string of black pearls of beauty natural and untampered, then I would stroke you like a black cat, elegant, deserving to be pampered and if an eclipse could occur for the whole world to see but the moon still shine bright mysteriously and if roses came in black, if roses came in black, if roses came in black, that is exactly what you'd be."$$Thank you, thank you.$$Thank you brother, so that was the poem I wrote. I just felt like I like you know how you like it's different in writing but I felt like even though I'm not a good artist, I felt like I was drawing a picture when I was doing it and just used the words to kind of do it.$How did things progress after the movie ['Love Jones'] came out and there's enthusiasm about it?$$Man it was so weird because first of all I found out Regie [Regie Gibson] set me up, but he did a good thing he didn't realize by having me tell everybody he helped me promote myself. He was trying to set me up for a gag basically like yeah, he knew because he was in on the editing and everything (laughter). He was in all the way. He was in (unclear) and they knew, he knew they had cut me out man. But because I promoted it so big man you know what I'm saying all by the will of God see what I'm saying anything bad she turning for good man and that's really what happened. So after that my respect level in the game was like an OG [original gangster] like even though I only been in the game like three years it was like an OG so then Common was like, "Man you should be on my next album." I'm like, "Bet." So I did a poem called 'I Used to Love H.E.R. Too' [ph.] didn't make the album but then the year after that did another piece called 'My City' [Malik Yusef Jones] and went and kicked it with him and he put in a tape of this girl named Erykah Badu and he said, "How you think she sound?" "Man she sound like Billie Holiday." He like, "For real?" I'm like, "Dude, she is the truth. Where she from?" He like, "Dallas [Texas]." I'm like, "Man you have her on the album." He like, "I'm thinking about it." I'm like, "No, you know you need to have her." He like, "Well maybe me, you and her can do a song together." It went from that from me, her and him doing a song to me and him doing a song 'cause she wasn't popular. Nobody knew who she was. She had been in nobody's album, no- none of her music was out at all and then he just let me do my own poem on his album called 'My City' and it came out September 1997 and they was like yeah we having the album release concert, Lauryn Hill, CeeLo [CeeLo Green] from the Goodie Mob, that's when he was still with the Mob, it was De La Soul, the Roots, Q-Tip. It was crazy and I remember listening to the radio like man they gonna have all them performing well I say I'm on the album how come they didn't say me? So we called his manager Derrick [ph.] and they was like yeah you can come perform, so you open up the show. So Mike Love and The Diz was like, "Malik Yusef [HistoryMaker Malik Yusef Jones] he on the album, got a hot poem on there." I came out performed it, Julio G in L.A. [Los Angeles, California] was playing the song, he thought it was Common, but it was me. And then that was another level people thought I was famous so the first time they thought I was super famous was when they saw me on the ABC world news the second time was 'Love Jones' they like man (laughter) I made myself be famous for them so crazy and then Common album and after that you know I'm--you know before that Biggie [Biggie Smalls; Notorious B.I.G.] had died, Pac [Tupac Shakur] had died September 13 Pac died and--$$What year was this?$$--that was '96 [1996].$$Ninety-six [1996] okay.$$Yeah so the year before that and that's when I had, I had a long talk with Barack Obama [HistoryMaker President Barack Obama] he was like why you gonna go out to L.A. or to Vegas [Las Vegas, Nevada], what you gonna do? You gonna go out there and do what? What you gonna do? You know Barack is real cut and dry dude when it come to men. He ain't--he nice to the sisters but to men he Barack ain't no punk with it. I had truth stick I know what a truth stick is. I been in Africa man. I lived in Africa. At the time nobody really knew who he was really he just community dude and Michelle [Michelle Obama] she was the ED [executive director] of a program I was doing called Public Allies so that's my bad, I love Michelle (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Public Allies I remember that yeah, yeah.$$It's AmeriCorps [AmeriCorps VISTA] program that Bill Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] implemented yep and then, then my son's godfather passed, Biggie. In fact Chris [ph.], he died and hip hop start changing and it was like my chance to get into the game and bring my brand of, of literature I guess, my brand my style of thinking and give it to the masses and I, I didn't feel, Lauryn was, Lauryn said, "When you gonna do a poetry album?" I was like, "I wouldn't listen to a poetry album, like nobody would do that."

Abiodun Oyewole

Abiodun Oyewole was born Charles Davis on February 25, 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the age of three, he moved to Queens, New York, with his maternal aunt and her new husband. He was greatly influenced by the jazz and gospel music they played and by poets like Langston Hughes. At fifteen, he and a friend attended a Yoruba Temple in Harlem, New York. There, a Yoruba priest performed a ceremony, giving him the name Abiodun Oyewole, by which he is best known. Oyewole began learning about the Yoruba gods and developed a spiritual connection to the religion, which stressed the significance of praying to one’s ancestors for guidance and strength.

Oyewole is a founding member of the American musical spieling group, The Last Poets. On May 19, 1968, the anniversary of Malcolm X’s birthday, Oyewole and two others David Nelson and Gylan Kain read poetry in tribute to Malcolm X at a memorial for him, and the group was born. The group’s message, deeply rooted in Black Nationalism, quickly became recognized within the African American community. The Last Poets along with the artist Gil Scott-Heron are credited as having had a profound effect on the development of hip-hop music. In 1970, the Last Poets were signed by jazz producer Alan Douglas and released their first album. This album includes their classic poem Niggers are Scared of Revolution. The Last Poets' spoken word albums preceded politically laced Rhythm and Blues projects, such as Marvin Gaye’s What's Going On, and foreshadowed the work of hard-hitting rap groups like Public Enemy and Dead Prez.

After being sentenced to four years in a North Carolina prison for larceny, Oyewole was forced to leave The Last Poets. He served two and half years of his sentence and during that time attended a nearby college where he earned his B.A. degree. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York City, where he has served as a faculty member. Oyewole rejoined The Last Poets, during its 1990s resurgence. The Last Poets took part in Lollapalooza in 1994 and released a new album entitled Holy Terror in 1995 and a book called On a Mission: Selected Poetry and a History of the Last Poets in 1996. Oyewole continues to tour various venues giving lectures on poetry and politics.

Oyewole lives in New York City.

Accession Number

A2006.164

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/13/2006 |and| 2/22/2007 |and| 3/21/2007

Last Name

Oyewole

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Ps 48 William Wordsworth School

Drake University

Shaw University

Columbia University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Abiodun

Birth City, State, Country

Cincinnati

HM ID

OYE01

Favorite Season

Birthday

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

Islands

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/25/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken, Fish

Short Description

Poet and spoken word artist Abiodun Oyewole (1948 - ) is a founding member of the American musical spieling group, The Last Poets. The group's message, deeply rooted in Black Nationalism, quickly became recognized within the African American community.

Employment

The Last Poets

Harlem Domestic Peace Corps

Columbia University

City College of New York

New York City Board of Education

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:135,2:475,7:10505,200:12545,248:14585,262:15010,268:21895,409:36259,627:36614,633:37253,643:48321,834:48806,856:71313,1193:86298,1468:91527,1567:91859,1572:142835,2301:144255,2358:150210,2468:153045,2508:164710,2718:169413,2778:179703,2965:185904,3050:202287,3381:203775,3405:205356,3435:212756,3534:231226,3816:232702,3899:234178,3926:234506,3931:239840,3975:252330,4180:253450,4371:268907,4487:269359,4492:279809,4659:282133,4707:283378,4746:283876,4753:298825,4981:300210,4999$0,0:497,4:1065,14:3195,66:8094,190:16330,430:16614,456:20803,543:30430,627:38910,807:40910,855:48990,1045:49390,1061:61064,1209:62576,1238:62936,1244:67616,1396:73376,1541:80504,1692:89880,1757:94364,1866:103560,2118:108500,2240:119720,2412:120350,2424:126370,2560:126650,2565:146460,2925:147160,2940:147510,2946:148210,2958:151990,3033:153040,3052:153670,3062:164136,3180:164838,3211:165150,3216:166944,3242:182844,3502:186876,3608:200423,3821:200849,3828:203334,3881:203902,3925:207168,3971:208659,4025:224820,4261:225288,4268:225600,4273:232386,4409:233244,4439:238782,4559:239094,4564:248233,4635:251270,4667
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Abiodun Oyewole's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his favorite color and food

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyeole describes his favorite time of the year

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyeole describes his travels

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyeole describes his favorite sayings, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyeole describes his favorite sayings, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyeole talks about parenting, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyeole talks about parenting, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his maternal grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his infancy

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls choosing to move to New York City with his aunt

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about Tulsa, Oklahoma's black Wall Street

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his aunt who raised him

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his uncle who raised him

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls attending P.S. 48

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls music from his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers celebrating Christmas as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls barbecues at his home in Queens, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls lessons about work ethic from his maternal uncle

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole describes lessons about race from his maternal aunt and uncle

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his childhood impression of New York City's Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his baptism at Southern Baptist Church

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers seeing the Gospel Caravan at the Apollo Theater

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls how he was affected by his baptism

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about sexuality

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his relationship to women

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his childhood aspiration to become a doctor

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls reciting the Lord's Prayer at Southern Baptist Church

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his relationship with his maternal uncle

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls fighting at Woodycrest boarding school

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers an encounter with his school counselor

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his experiences at Haaren High School

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his reputation for fighting at Haaren High School

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his high school English teachers

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls becoming interested in poetry

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers his first encounter with African religion

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers adopting his name

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his poetry

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Slating of Abiodun Oyewole's interview, session 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about the universal nature of struggle and poetry

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls founding The Last Poets with David Nelson

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his talent for poetry

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his desire for self-expression

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole reflects upon being a voice for others

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers preparing for his first poetry performance

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls the first performance of The Last Poets

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his decision not to pursue medicine

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his maternal aunt's lessons about self-esteem

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole describes the early performances of The Last Poets

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls hosting workshops and parties at the East Wind, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls hosting workshops and parties at the East Wind, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole describes The Last Poets' finances

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls The Last Poets' changing lineup

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers becoming the sole member of The Last Poets

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers recruiting Umar Bin Hassan to The Last Poets

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls Jalal Mansur Nuriddin joining The Last Poets

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers recording the album 'The Last Poets'

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole describes being a member of The Last Poets

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers his decision to leave The Last Poets

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls protesting the Harlem State Office Building's construction, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls protesting the Harlem State Office Building's construction, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers the police search and seizure of his car

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls fleeing New York City

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole reflects upon being a revolutionary activist

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls attending Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his radio programs at Shaw University

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls organizing the robbery of two gun stores in Raleigh

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls being pursued after robbing the Ku Klux Klan, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls being pursued after robbing the Ku Klux Klan, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole recounts the details of his robbery of the Ku Klux Klan

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole narrates his photographs

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Slating of Abiodun Oyewole's interview, session 3

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about Gylan Kain

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers the tension within The Last Poets

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole describes the East Wind Associates

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls recording 'The Last Poets'

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about the tracks on 'The Last Poets'

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about Frankie Crocker

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls the release of 'The Last Poets'

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls founding African societies in North Carolina, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 10 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls founding African societies in North Carolina, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about polygamy

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls being sentenced to twelve to twenty years in prison

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his experience in Raleigh's Central Prison, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his first wife

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his experience in Raleigh's Central Prison, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his experience in jail before his trial, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his experience in jail before his trial, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls applying for Central Prison's school release program

Tape: 12 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls attending Shaw University while incarcerated

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his radio shows at Shaw University

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his play, 'Comments'

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about reading Doris Kemp's poetry on his radio show

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his return to Shaw University after receiving parole

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers a fellow student at Shaw University

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about founding the African Revolutionary Ensemble

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls meeting Angela Davis and Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

Tape: 13 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers recording with African Revolutionary Ensemble

Tape: 13 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his company's cancelled show with Stevie Wonder

Tape: 14 Story: 1 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about a girlfriend

Tape: 14 Story: 2 - Abiodun Oyewole describes his connection to the Black Panther Party

Tape: 14 Story: 3 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls working at Columbia University's Community Education Exchange Program

Tape: 14 Story: 4 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers receiving the Charles H. Revson Fellowship, pt. 1

Tape: 14 Story: 5 - Abiodun Oyewole remembers receiving the Charles H. Revson Fellowship, pt. 2

Tape: 14 Story: 6 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls Columbia University's Science Technology Entry Program

Tape: 14 Story: 7 - Abiodun Oyewole describes The Last Poets' reunion

Tape: 14 Story: 8 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about reuniting with Umar Bin Hassan

Tape: 14 Story: 9 - Abiodun Oyewole recalls his son's music lessons with Babatunde Olatunji

Tape: 14 Story: 10 - Abiodun Oyewole talks about his return to The Last Poets

DASession

1$2

DATape

5$7

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
Abiodun Oyewole recalls becoming interested in poetry
Abiodun Oyewole recalls the first performance of The Last Poets
Transcript
I mean that was, I mean if, I guess if people had listened to me then when I was a kid or whatever, they would probably assume that I was gonna be a teacher. Because when it came, when we got to the section of poetry, oh my God, I actually did, I actually took words from Ann Carpenter's class and got real arrogant one day and said, "All right, these words what do you want us to do with these words?" She said, "Well put them in a composition, well come up first, get the definitions and always remember the primary definition is the one that we should go with." And she would break us down and say that you'll see two or three different definitions in the dictionary. And she says, "But then use these words in a composition." So then I'm thinking to myself composition, I said, "Could that be a poetic composition?" And she says, "If you can put these words in a poem, I'll give you, I'll give you not one but two extra credits." I said, "Oh really?" And that's what I did. I, I took vocabulary words from the board and I was going out with a sister, that was going to Boston--going to Borough of Manhattan Community College [New York, New York] and we were having difficulties. First of all I lied about my age, I lied about where I was going to school, I told her I was in NYU [New York University, New York, New York], I was in high school [Haaren High School, New York, New York]. I was a sophomore in high school, and, and I wrote a poem about our relationship. "She's a rose of many thorns tearing pride out of my heart / Though she blossoms in many forms, her thorns remain always sharp / She rips, she hurts yet stays projecting seductively fragrant perfumes / I protest in so many ways but my manhood she somehow consumes / I'm torn between love and masculinity and the ladder I need the most / The life of mine is separate entity, I'm a man this I cannot boast / She more woman than I am man, knows not her place by me / She thinks me a cactus living in sand, closing her ears to my plea / Let me free to roam in your garden, let me free to pride in your perfume / For the love I feel will soon be pardoned by the manhood I must quickly resume." Of course I got extra credit, and Miss Carpenter she told me she says, "I don't know if anybody's ever told you this before but you're a poet. And maybe that will come in handy in the future."$$Did you know you were a poet before, before this?$$(Shakes head) I had written a poem in elementary school with the help of a librarian who nobody liked 'cause he was soft. He was probably gay, I mean but Mr. Orr [ph.] was cool with me, and he didn't try no funny business with me. And I was asked when I was in the fifth grade to write a poem for graduation. I wasn't even graduating you know, this is the sixth grade is when you graduated I, I and I didn't understand until oh some years later that the reason I was asked because I was the best English, I was the best English student in the school at--in that elementary school, I, I had won spelling bees, I had written good reports. Whenever I had to do the oral report, I was always better than the rest of the kids, 'cause I had my mother [Oyewole's maternal aunt, Elvenia Robinson Davis] at home to help me. 'Cause remember I did anything she would, she was, she was serious night watchman over everything. She wants to see my work; she want to see everything, everything, nothing went unnoticed. So I actually you know I believe it's, it's like when I did this poem, I didn't know, I didn't have any idea how to do the poem. And I went to Mr. Orr and I told him I was asked to do the poem, and he laughed. And he says, "And you don't know why?" I said, he says, "Well it's okay." He says, "I'll help you write the poem." And he says, "Well what do you think about, do you think about graduation?" I said, (shrugs). I said, he says, "We're gonna make a list of words that rhyme that deal with graduation." So what comes to mind, I said school bells you know, I think that was the first that came to my mind, maybe first or second. And he said, "Well what, what rhymes with school bell?" He says like say, "What you, you leaving school you know what do you call that?" I said, "Well it's like you're saying goodbye to your friends and people that you knew, teachers that you knew." "So what's another word for goodbye that deals with school, but sounds school bell?" I said, "Farewell?" He says, he says, "All right, so then," and, and we took each pair and worked it you know, and had a poem. The poem was up in the school for a long time, but I never considered myself a poet though, at that time. I just 'cause first of all, he helped me write the poem, so I really kind of considered him to be my secret help you know. But this time I did 'Emancipation,' which is one I just recited I did that on my own, I was dipping and dabbing in poetry as a, as a just something to do. That I liked to, that I thought was interesting, it was interesting to me.$Now before we actually went on the stage, however, we went--David Nelson lived right around the corner from Mount Morris Park [New York, New York], he, it was convenient. So he, I, we went there to his house, he said I met this other guy named Gylan Kain, I met Kain in the park. Then we all went upstairs to David's house. Now Kain he had met at a poetry reading right here at Columbia University [New York, New York] about a week before, no two weeks before. And he invited him because he liked his poetry; he thought that that would be cool. So we went over to David's house and we sat there for a minute and we talked about how we gonna go on stage and we thought maybe we would sing. Somebody would do maybe a poem up on front so I, I had maybe someone try sing 'Ooo Baby Baby,' maybe that'll be slick you know. I mean that was one of the hit songs at the time 'Ooo Baby Baby,' Kain couldn't hold a note if you handed to him. David's all right, his voice is kind of weak but he, it wasn't, that wasn't not gonna be our forte. So I said, now I had just seen a demonstration on television, it was a demonstration by the students of Howard University [Washington, D.C.]. And it was to try to get, they were having issues with their president and if I recall his name was Nesbitt [sic. James M. Nabrit, Jr.]. And they didn't want him there anymore, they want him out, and they had an effigy of him hanging up in the tree. And they were marching around and they were chanting are you ready nigger is you got to be ready, are you ready? Then they go off into Beep, Beep, Bang, Bang, Un-Gowa, Black Power, Beep, Beep, Bang, Bang are you ready nigger is you got to. And I thought that was so hot, so I said now I know we can't sing together but everybody can chant. So I said we're gonna chant are you ready niggers, so we practiced it, I said we go on stage, that's what we gonna do. There was a brother named Hakim [ph.], he's now like a documenteur, he jock- he's a film guy, he does a lot, you see him in jazz concerts all over the place. He's got a long beard, he's got a camera always now, but he used to be one of the baddest djembe drummers. And he had a dance troupe and everything for a long time, he just changed courses and he's a Pisces and he can do that. And, and he was on stage with some drummers and dancers on that very first day. And then they were packed, getting ready to pack up and leave and give us the stage, and I said no, no, stay right there. So that's how the drums got involved right away, because I felt that that would give added rhythm you know. And it did, and we had the entire park are you ready niggers, you got to be ready, the drummers were playing. And David had his poem entitled 'Are You Ready Black People,' Gylan Kain had his poem entitled 'Niggers Are Untogether People' and I had poem entitled 'What Is Your Thing Brother' [Abiodun Oyewole]. And that was, those were the first three poems that graced the stage as The Last Poets. And, and we didn't have the name then, the name was something that was sought out by David, David did the research for the name. He read Sterling Brown's poem 'Strong Men Keep On Coming' [sic. 'Strong Men'] he read Margaret Walker's 'For My People' I know he read poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. But the poem that really captivated our name finally gave us the name was poem called 'Towards a Walk in the Sun' by a South African poet named Keroapetse Kgositsile. And Ko, Ko, Kgositsile, he has I think he does that in his name, he's Zulu. He's a great brother, good friend of mine, we were in South Africa two summers ago and we had a big party and also when we did our thing on the stage, he came out first. And the people gave him a standing ovation and we started doing the part of the poem that gave us our name, the entire audience was doing it. So it's like a creed, it was like when you hear is the birth of memory. When the moment hatches and times womb, there will be no art talk. The only sound you will he, the only poem you'll hear will be the spear, the only sound you will hear will be the spear point pivoted to the punctured marrow. The only poem you'll hear will be the timeless native son dancing like crazy to retrieved rhythms of desire fading into memory. Therefore, David added we are The Last Poets of the world. So it's like what all, whatever you know like the negotiations are over. And the marching's are over, the parade, the banners the shouting, yelling and screaming and throwing bricks and rocks are over you know. And this statement that we as poets represent is that final statement before it really hits the fan you know so.