The Last Poets' 'A.M. Project': Hear New Track From the Long-Running Legends
The Last Poets will release Transcending Toxic Times on May 10. But the album, whose track "A.M. Project" is premiering exclusively below, went through its own set of turbulent times.
The project began about seven years ago, according to co-founder Umar Bin Hassan. But at the time he wasn't having the project and quit in the midst of recording, citing a rancorous relationship with producer (and bassist) Jamaaladeen Tacuma. "I just quit the whole thing," Hassan tells Billboard. "I got to the second poem and something just wasn't clicking. So I left." But earlier this year he got a call from fellow Poet Abiodun Oyewole, telling Hassan that he, Tacuma and longtime percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde had kept working on the album, and what Hassan heard "just blew my mind."
"It really affected me that they had done so much work with it," Hassan notes. "I was like, 'Whoa...!' I had to apologize for walking away. I fell in love with it. Jamaaladeen really put the work, in, man. He didn't quit. I'm glad he kept working with it. Evidently he saw more than I did."
Among the elements Tacuma added to Transcending Toxic Times was a snippet of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme in the midst of "A.M. Project," a wide-ranging, eight-plus minute track that Hassan says incorporates a number of "personal things" ranging from love to substance issues and an overall search for purpose and meaning in life. "This is not just about me," Hassan says. "Lots of people have been going through some of the changes I've been going through and feeling what I've been feeling -- black, white, male, female, every age. I was going through some problems, cocaine and crack, lots of problems. It's myself trying to get into myself and find out why I was still in trouble with myself and doing drugs and things I didn't need to be doing to myself. I knew I wasn't the only one going through that." The good news, of course, is that was seven years ago, and Hassan is happy to say that there's been improvement.
"I've been through a whole lot since then," he reports. "I've still got problems and I'm still working with them and probably will be for the rest of my life. But I've grown some. I've had to grow, and I had to listen to the world and I'm writing what I'm going through and what other people are going through."
In addition to Hassan and Oyewole, Transcending Toxic Times also features poetry by guests such as Malik B, Ursula Rucker and Wadud Ahmad. The Last Poets are planning more live performances in its wake; The troupe played London earlier and also has Amsterdam on its docket and the U.S. on its wish list. "If the album hits, people will be calling," Hassan predicts. "We'll definitely be trying to do some things here in America." And after more than 50 years he's confident the Last Poets will have more to say moving forward, especially in the turbulent times the world seems to be encountering now.
"When we started out we were warriors, and I think we still are," Hassan says. "We believe in revolution. We believe in change in America. We've all been through certain things in our lives but we're still here at 70, 71, still putting out things for people to listen to and feel with. This is an opportunity and a blessing for us. And people are still listening to us, so this 50 years has not been in vain."