Jalal Mansur Nuriddin Pt.1

“Max Roach said master your axe. I spent twenty five years mastering my axe. I learned show business through trial and error. The message was more important than the money; because when you got the message, then you’ve got to get the mess out of that age… Great changes take place during an age, but you’ve got to get the mess out of it.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

Hidden in full view since its recording in 1973, “Hustlers Convention” by Lightnin’ Rod a.k.a. Jalal Mansur Nuriddan and The Last Poets is at last openly being acknowledged as the handbook for the genre and culture we know as hip-hop. Its influence runs deep, with Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy citing the album as playing an integral part in influencing their lyrical content, phrasing and rhyming; as well as some high profile members of the rap fraternity still not crediting him, recognising him or paying him for the influence and use of the same.

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Michael “The Dood” Edwards and Richmond Trew, the U.K.’s very own spoken word troubadour and Founder of Abstract Word, sat down with the extremely young and consciously minded septuagenarian to get the inside track on why and how he’s been given “a bad rap” and also to be further enlightened directly from a living part of Hip Hop and Spoken Word folklore.

Jalal Mansur Nuriddin a.k.a. Lightning’ Rod a.k.a. the Original Original, founder member of jazz/poetry instigators The Last Poets; on behalf of ukvibe, our readership, those that are aware of “The Legacy” and those yet to be enlightened, we welcome you.

Jalal: Thank you very much

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

The Dood: Firstly let me remind you of a quote you made during the soon-to-be-released “Hustlers Convention” film:

“… because what we had was the music, and in the music was our hope; not only was it our hope it was part of our communication.”

Is music still the beginning, middle and the end for you, and does the spoken word still have the potency and power to penetrate people’s mind-scapes?

Jalal: Yes, providing you can find the key that leads to the subconscious mind. When you activate the subconscious mind, it layers on top of the conscious mind, so that even while you sleep, you are still getting deep. Okay? So therefore you get that expression, “Well listen, I’m not quite sure about this but I’ll sleep on it.” So once you’re well rested you give your subconscious mind the time to have a conversation with your conscious mind; then you find out things that you thought you knew but now you’ve got some clarity and some clarification. So therefore the spoken word is a spoke, like in a bicycle tyre – it’s one word in a wheel, but the spoke leads you to the wheel. It’s the spokes which are the components of the whole; that keep the wheel going.

The Dood: I’ve brought along with me today Richmond Trew, he has been championing spoken word in the UK via his outlet “Abstract Word” since 1992. Naturally, I’ve invited him along to meet your good self and pose some questions of his own directly to you.

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Richmond Trew (Abstract Word) & Jalal Mansur Nuriddin
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

Richmond Trew: My new album, coming out soon, is called “Spographics.” Do you recognise that term at all?

Jalal: I coined that phrase.

Richmond Trew: You did indeed coin that phrase (both chuckle).

Jalal: Basically it means spoken pictures. If I paint a picture with a triplet then you’ve got an image; and so you have an audio picture, or a little picture depending on whether you’re reading it or listening to it. So if I say:

“It was a full moon in the middle of June in the summer of ’59, I was young and cool and shot of bad game of pool and hustled all the chumps I could find.”

So there’s quite a few things that you know; you know it was June, you know that it was a full moon, you know that the hero was young, you know that he was shooting pool, you know that he thought he was cool. And you know all of these things in one verse.

Richmond Trew: Very poignant indeed. Is “Sporten” one of your terms as well?

Jalal: Well you see, in this world, life is nothing but sport and amusement. So sport meant two things really – It meant that a) if you lost a contest you were a good sport if you weren’t a sore loser. The important thing was that you got the opportunity to compete, so that the competition became complementary as opposed to in total opposition. So you are now in a situation where you could have a win-win situation, because you are able to complement each other. Therefore you were able to get two sides of the same coin. Now you can understand it a little more, because head without tails is like the sun without the moon or the moon without the sun. Planet Earth is in between all of that.

The Dood: The name ‘The Last Poets’ I read was derived from a South African poet named Little Willie Kgositsile [aka Bra Willie] who wrote a poem containing the line in 1968. What’s the story?

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

Jalal: He had fled apartheid in South Africa and he came to Harlem. He had written a poem, and in the poem he said that this was the last age of poems and essays; that guns and rifles would take the place of poems and essays. So therefore we must be the ‘last poets’ of this age. Which meant this gave us a chance to have some dialogue before we all die, because we’re not going to sleep in the yard. We’ve got to have our basics – food, clothing and shelter. And we need protection and direction; anything short of that we’re not going for, because there’s enough to go around. The Earth regenerates itself; it’s about the greedy fleecing the needy. Just when you think you’ve got all the answers they change the question.

The Dood: How many original Last Poets were there?

Jalal: Seven

The Dood: Can you name check them all?

Jalal: Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, David Nelson, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, Kenyatte Abdur Rahman, Suliaman El Hadi (deceased) and myself.

The Dood: What led to the inception of Hustlers Convention?

Jalal: It came about by necessity, to identify problems inherited as a result of loss of language and culture and roots. So it became a necessity to understand what decent means and how you can get trapped from it; in an alternative lifestyle that was not your ancestors’ original lifestyle. Which means you’re separated from the tribe; you’re separated from the land; you’re separated from the heritage, and you have nothing to show for it but bad memories – you’ve been reduced to this level now where you’ve become a parasite out of necessity in order to survive.

So therefore ‘The Hustlers Convention’ had to be written in order to show the decent at the end of the day what happens to those who descend to this level and are forced to become like this (i.e. characters portrayed on the album) on the excuse of having to survive, because of self-preservation being the first rule of nature; and the double-cross at the end of the day as a result of this lifestyle. Because hustling meant two things: 1) literally, to move fast and 2) figuratively, a confidence game; to take somebody in your confidence and then cheat them out of their lawful belongings. It needed to be written in order to glamorise and de-glamorise it as a result. Just when you think you’ve got all the answers, they change the question; pull the rug out from underneath you.

The Dood: Were the characters of ‘Sport’ and ‘Spoon’ based on anyone in particular? Or were they loosely based on real-life hustlers in New York?

Richmond Trew: Were they representational?

Jalal: Yeah, they were representational. There was always somebody who was a “good sport”. You’d be going to a bar and he would say, “Hey set up a round of drinks, it’s on me!” Okay – He’s a good sport. You lost a game there; he’ll say congratulations to the winner – a good sport. It didn’t mean that he played baseball or football or basketball or soccer, it just meant that he was easy-going and could lose graciously, without harbouring revenge. Spoon meant that this particular character likes to eat. (laughs)

The Dood: Full-stop!

Jalal: Full-stop! That’s how he got his nickname. He always had to be putting something in his mouth.

The Dood: Did Kool and The Gang play all the music on The Hustlers Convention album?

Jalal: No they played three tracks.

The Dood: I interviewed Kool from Kool and the Gang last year and didn’t mention anything about playing on this album?

Jalal: Because it’s not in his best interest.

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

The Dood: I know this is a bit of a sore point given all the differences between the two management companies at the time, but I wanted to get it straight from you rather than hearsay?

Jalal: Yeah, if you get it from the horse’s mouth, then you know it’s of horse; and this is the Year of the Horse.

Richmond Trew: Indeed! Indeed!

Jalal: They recorded it as studio musicians. Then later on Nas sampled the Hustlers Convention and I brought a lawsuit against the Nas’ label, which is Sony, and I needed Khalis Bayyan (Ronald Bell) of Kool and the Gang to back me and write down that he got paid as a studio musician; because Sony records said that “Oh no we didn’t sample Jalal’s lyrics, we sampled the music”. And this was an audio movie, so the music was like a soundtrack to the movie. Sony put one hundred lawyers against my one lawyer in France!

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

So I lost the case, because Khalis Bayyan would not back me up and write down on just a piece of paper, “Yeah, we got paid as studio musicians”. Now whatever beef he had with the producer of the album as regards to whether he got credit or whether he should get paid – he got paid as a studio musician to do this! But he wouldn’t back me and I lost the case. This was back in 2004 when Nas first put out the Street Disciples album. He (Khalis Bayyan) told me over the phone. I said, “Listen man, did you get paid as a studio musician; or did you do that music for free; how did that go down?” He said, “Yeah, we got paid as studio musicians”. I said, “I need you to put that in writing man, so I can win this case against the sampling and start collecting my royalties!” Because my family has suffered; everybody has suffered as a result of loss of income.

Richmond Trew: Was he claiming intellectual copyright?

Jalal: No, he couldn’t do that because the lyrics are the intellectual copyright which I have registered in the library of Commerce in America, so he cannot possibly do that.

The Dood: Who else was involved with the music on the album?

Jalal: Various artists; because the producer was in charge – all I did was lay the lyrics down. I didn’t have nothin’ to do with the music, the producer decided.

The Dood: The producer being Douglas?

Jalal: Yeah, this is Douglas. So he scored it like a movie… He got a track from Tina Turner and The Ikettes; he got a track from Billy Preston; he got a track from Buddy Miles then he put it all together for the music to mash… So as to give it that ambience, that background, that gives you that visual; even though you’re listening to it on audio.

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

The Dood: How did you come to be on Charly records?

Jalal: Charly records are a fence. [We sit perplexed until Jalal expands further in rhyme]

“At the Hustlers Convention there’s pick pockets and dope peddlers, murderers and thieves; card shark gamblers with aces up their sleeves; bank robbers, burglars, boozers and pimps; prostitutes, call girls and all kinds of nymphs; loan sharks, swindlers, counterfeiters and FENCES!”

A fence is someone who handles stolen goods.

The Dood/Richmond Trew: Woohoohoo!

Jalal: So he (Nas) got it from the man who stole it from Douglas who stole it from me. Okay! Because Douglas didn’t own the publishing rights to the lyrics – I DID, because Jimi Hendrix told me to get the publishing. He had my back! Because he selected me to do a track with him under the name Lightnin’ Rod, saying “Man, you’re saying what I’m playing! So I want to do something with you; and I want you to have the publishing; and I want you to get all the royalties on it; and I wanted to use my name to further your career.”

The Dood: Why the name Lightnin’ Rod?

Jalal: Well, in the community a lightning rod is the one who blows the whistle when the community is
being assaulted, or being lied to, or being under-serviced, or being uncooperative. So a lightning rod is two things – 1) It conducts energy when lightning strikes on the top of the building. 2) It’s a whistleblower – the guy who says oh oh, the sky is falling y’all!

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

So you can say Noah was a lightning rod? Anybody that predicts something that’s going to go down, that’s going to affect the entire community, because they’ve got the heads up on what’s up, is a lightning rod… So that’s what lightning rod means; it means “The Warner” – Warning! Don’t go down this road, because this is what will happen, this is what it will lead to; at the end of the day you’ll pay. I think they call it karma [chuckles]

The Dood: Is your name credited on the album aside from Lightnin’ Rod?

Jalal: Oh, it’s inside the album, you’ll see my name Jalal; because I invited my friends down to do some sound effects. It was a British cat named Tom Clack who did all the sound effects; that’s £5000 of sound effects in 1973! We got a whole audio movie vibe; you know when you can listen to it and visualise it, you ain’t got to see it, you’re seeing it in your mind, which is even better than seeing it on the screen.

The Dood: It’s like listening on the radio; your mind makes the pictures for you.

Jalal: Right!

Richmond Trew: It lends to it more. You actually lift and enhance it more with the sound effects, so in your mind you’re giving specifics by adding other sounds.

Jalal: Right! Right!

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

The Dood: I interviewed jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp recently and we talked about the Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement and he believes that the black man has taken a couple of steps back since the 1960s. Did the Civil Rights Movement, or any other protests against injustices around the world, influence the lyrical content of the Last Poets?

Jalal: It’s six in one hand and half a dozen in the other, it don’t add up to twelve; because they use the word a dozen you see what I’m saying. It’s American slang that means you’re talking about somebody’s mother; which is another offshoot of the development of rap. I played with Shepp for two years.

The Dood: Really?

Jalal: Yeah, there’s a video of a live performance with me and Shepp in 2006. When people are self empowered then they have their freedom.

“But economics, education and medicine pay for transportation, communication and habitation; that equals liberation; from liberation you can get your freedom.”

Freedom is two words “free” and “dom” -” Dom” means domain, because everybody’s looking up your arse to see the last time you went to the toilet. They’re spying on you, because they fear, out of guilt, their past, and they don’t want their past to have to pay in the present time. Then you’re at liberty as long as you can pay for it on a day-to-day deal. If you can’t pay for it then you go to debtors’ prison, because you’re not making a contribution towards consumerism within the society. So therefore we need to empower each other, because there’s enough to go around.

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Richmond Trew (Abstract Word)
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

Richmond Trew: The issues that you highlighted in Hustlers Convention, are they still relevant today?

Jalal: Yeah! It’s more relevant today than it was yesterday; it’s just that the hustlers change their names. Because at the end of the poem I say:

“The real hustlers are ripping off benz from the unsuspecting mens, who are programmed to think they can win.”

Okay, so now in the States we have what is called the ‘one percent’, and the ‘one percent’ has got all the wealth and the other ninety-nine percent is struggling.

The Dood: A few words on Gil Scott-Heron?

Jalal: I gave him one lesson and he made a career out of it, he should have come back for nine more – I gave him one lesson as a student at Lincoln University, he took that, he ran with it, made a career out of it. It made him a commercial mediocre poet and he didn’t master his art; he mastered the business of it. Master the art, then you can master the business. Max Roach said, “Master your axe”. I spent twenty five years mastering my axe – I learned show business through trial and error.

The message was more important than the money, because when you got the message then you’ve got to get the “mess” out of the “age” – and an age is a minimum of one hundred years. So you’ve got the atomic age, ice age, industrial age; you understand what I’m saying? Great changes take place during an age, but you got to get the “mess” out of it, so you can get it cleaned up – that’s the message.

The Dood: Can you elaborate on the two sequel albums, Hustlers Detention and Hustlers Ascension, that you have written, but still not been released to this day because of poli-tricks?

Jalal: Put the money on the table and it will be enabled – that’s the elaboration.

The Dood: What were your reasons or purposes for relocating to the UK in the late 80s and early 90s? A good friend of mine Eddie Leach recalls seeing you performing live around that time.

Jalal: I went into exile, self-imposed exile.

The Dood: Can you give us some feedback on your student Malik?

Jalal: He is a spiritual student of mine and a poetical student of Gil Scott’s, so therefore he won’t make the same mistakes.

The Dood: Who put the idea of bringing Hustlers Convention to the Jazz Cafe?

Jalal: Malik put it to me.

The Dood: Are you looking forward to playing with Orphy Robinson and Jazz Warriors International?

Jalal: Oh Yeah! We played together in ‘84 with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at the Camden Jazz Festival.

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Photo: Courtesy of Jason Plews

The Dood: You are rightly regarded as the grandfather of rap; your star is only now rising as it were – are you a believer in better late than never?

Jalal: Yes

The Dood: What advice would you give to up-and-coming artist?

Jalal: Keep on keeping on; keep going to the end of the line.

Michael J Edwards

Big Mike and ukvibe thanks to Malik Al Nasir from Malik & The O.G’s for arranging access to interview Jalal.

…In Part 2 – ukvibe goes further in-depth with the Grandfather of Rap.

Essential Website:
www.grandfatherofrap.com

Essential Discography:
http://www.grandfatherofrap.com/discography

Essential un-released albums:
Hustlers Detention
Hustlers Ascension

Essential Biography: Coming soon…

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