THE GRAND­FA­THER OF RAP MU­SIC

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - OBITUARIES - GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

As a mem­ber of Har­lem’s the Last Po­ets, he would re­cite verses over conga drum­ming and, later, as a solo artist, paired rhymed sto­ries with street-wise funk

Jalal Mansur Nurid­din, who helped es­tab­lish the foun­da­tion for hip-hop as a mem­ber of the Last Po­ets and in his own solo work, died on June 4 at a hos­pi­tal in At­lanta. He was 73. The cause was lung can­cer, said Umar Bin Has­san, a fel­low mem­ber of the Last Po­ets.

The Last Po­ets emerged in Har­lem at the end of the 1960s, recit­ing rhyth­mic verses over conga drum­ming and speak­ing di­rectly to the dis­en­fran­chised youth of New York’s black com­mu­nity. The group’s po­etry pushed rev­o­lu­tion and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, while ad­mon­ish­ing lis­ten­ers about sur­vival in an en­vi­ron­ment de­fined by racial­ized poverty.

With his high, declam­a­tory voice and his way of milk­ing words for their sonic po­ten­tial as well as their mean­ing, Mr. Nurid­din stood out. He de­liv­ered some of the group’s most ur­gent and in­ci­sive verses, and al­though the Last Po­ets’ lineup ro­tated over time, he per­formed with the group well into his later years. By then, he had come to be widely known as the “grand­fa­ther of rap,” a lau­rel he proudly ac­cepted.

With the re­lease of their de­but al­bum, The Last Po­ets, in 1970, the group be­came an un­der­ground sen­sa­tion, reach­ing No. 29 on the Billboard al­bum chart and stay­ing on the chart for 30 weeks de­spite be­ing rarely played on ra­dio.

As the civil-rights move­ment lost steam and gave way to the sep­a­ratism of Black Power, the group spoke from a stand­point of dis­il­lu­sion­ment, al­though with vig­or­ous at­ti­tude. In On the Sub­way, Mr. Nurid­din rapped:

Me know­ing me Black proud and de­ter­mined to be free Could plainly see my en­emy yes Yes, yes, I know him I once slaved for him body and soul And made him a pile of black gold Off the sweat of my la­bor he stole But his game, his game is old We’ve bro­ken the men­tal hold Things must change There’s no limit to our range

Mr. Nurid­din may have made his great­est con­tri­bu­tion to the fu­ture of pop­u­lar mu­sic as a solo artist. In 1973, us­ing the pseu­do­nym Light­nin’ Rod, he re­leased Hustlers Con­ven­tion, an al­bum that uni­fied the black tra­di­tion of toasts – rhymed sto­ries about the heroic ex­ploits of rene­gades and rebels, and the bat­tles be­tween them – with the con­tem­po­rary sound of street-wise funk.

Rap­ping in a crack­ling growl, Mr. Nur­ridin told an ex­tended story of two young men sur­viv­ing on the New York streets, with lush back­beats pro­vided by Kool and the Gang and A-list ses­sion mu­si­cians.

On Sport, the al­bum’s open­ing track, he wove a boast­ing first-per­son nar­ra­tive about street hus­tling, cool and de­lib­er­ate but adamantly paced. Aside from the im­pro­vis­ing horn and gui­tar lines that swept across the al­bum, this rep­re­sented al­most the ex­act sonic and lyri­cal blue­print that rap­pers such as Melle Mel and Eazy-E would pick up on a decade later, when they re­leased some of the first ma­jor hip-hop sin­gles.

Mr. Nurid­din ar­rived at the idea to put a funk band be­hind his verses with the pro­ducer Alan Dou­glas, who had recorded the Last Po­ets’ first few al­bums. Mr. Nurid­din said he had meant the al­bum’s con­tents as a cau­tion­ary tale. “I wrote the al­bum so peo­ple would sit up, take no­tice and not be­come one of the hustlers, card cheats, pros­ti­tutes, pimps and hi­jack­ers I rapped about,” he said in a 2015 doc­u­men­tary about Hustlers Con­ven­tion.

In the doc­u­men­tary, the rap­per Chuck D. of Pub­lic En­emy called the al­bum a “ver­bal bi­ble” for un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of the New York streets.

Mr. Nur­ridin was born Lawrence Padilla on July 24, 1944, in Brooklyn and grew up in a hous­ing pro­ject. In­for­ma­tion on whom he leaves was not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

“I had this need to ex­press my­self,” Mr. Nurid­din said of his child­hood. “Ev­ery­thing was bot­tled up – not just within my­self, but in the African-Amer­i­can peo­ple in gen­eral. So I be­gan to write po­etry.”

By his mid-20s, hav­ing briefly changed his name to Alafia Pudim, he was be­com­ing known for his fa­cil­ity with words, and for speak­ing in spon­ta­neous rhyme. (He be­gan go­ing by Jalalud­din Mansur Nurid­din in 1973.) He soon be­friended mem­bers of the Last Po­ets, a group with a loose mem­ber­ship that had started in 1968 on Mal­colm X’s birth­day. He even­tu­ally be­came a core mem­ber.

Mr. Dou­glas got wind of the Last Po­ets and re­leased their first al­bum on his la­bel, Dou­glas Records. But ra­dio and tele­vi­sion avoided the group, partly be­cause of its un­flinch­ing at­tacks on in­sti­tu­tional racism, and partly be­cause of its use of words from the African-Amer­i­can lex­i­con that are con­sid­ered ob­jec­tion­able even to­day.

Record sell­ers of­ten slapped cau­tion­ary stick­ers onto the Last Po­ets al­bum in yet an­other mo­ment that pre­saged the con­flicted re­la­tion­ship hip-hop would have with the main­stream.

Mr. Nurid­din con­tin­ued per­form­ing un­der the Last Po­ets name for many years, typ­i­cally along­side Su­lia­man El-Hadi. Mr. Nurid­din is fea­tured on Last Po­ets record­ings in­clud­ing the in­flu­en­tial This Is Mad­ness (1971), the son­i­cally ex­per­i­men­tal Chas­tise­ment (1973) and Scat­terap/Home (1993).

With the re­lease of their de­but al­bum … the group be­came an un­der­ground sen­sa­tion, reach­ing No. 29 on the Billboard al­bum chart.

ALAS­TAIR MILLER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Jalal Mansur Nurid­din, seen in Paris in 2006, made one of his great­est con­tri­bu­tions to pop­u­lar mu­sic with 1973’s Hustlers Con­ven­tion, us­ing the pseu­do­nym Light­nin’ Rod. Chuck D. of Pub­lic En­emy called the al­bum a ‘ver­bal bi­ble’ for un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of the New York streets.

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