‘Hustlers Convention’ film makes case for unheralded cornerstone of rap music

(Huslter’ Convention official trailer)

Many are very aware of the Godfather of Soul, the late James Brown, but how many among those who love rap, especially its present day rappers, know that genre’s living “grandfather”?

Some, such as Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Melle Mel and Fab 5 Freddy, among others, proudly and often pays homage to Jalal Mansur Nuridden and the seminal groundbreaking group he once founded, The Last Poets, as well as Nuridden, also known as Lightnin’ Rod and his equally seminal album, Hustlers Convention.

Chuck D, who served as executive producer, and director Mike Todd spotlight Hustlers Convention in a documentary.

The 2015 film “is conceived as a way to tell the story, perhaps for the first time, of the true roots of rap,” says the pre-screening press release by Sound Unseen, who presented it April 13 at Trylon Microcinema in South Minneapolis as part of its monthly film series.

Hustlers Convention tells Nuridden’s life story through personal narratives, archival materials, as well as animated snippets of his song, which was originally released in 1973 as the title cut of the album of the same name.  It told in rap form the story of Sport, a fast-talking hustler. Its soundtrack was by Kool & the Gang, Buddy Miles and others. However, the album got entangled in a legal mess with record labels, and as a result only an estimated 20,000 copies were produced and sold before it went underground.

Adarra Davis
Adarra Davis

“What was shocking to me is that I never heard of Hustlers Convention,” admitted Adarra Davis, formerly of New Jersey, now living in Minneapolis. She and George Shannon of Minneapolis were two of the handful of folk at the April 13 Minnesota premiere, including the MSR.

However, those of us who lived when Hustlers came out in 1973, have heard of it. Someone you knew had it, either on vinyl or tape. Someone you knew could nearly recite it word-for-word. It was treated no different than those Redd Foxx “party records”— the ones that never got played on the radio, but you heard anyhow.

The Last Poets, on the other hand, did get some above-ground notice. They were a group of New York City poets and musicians who came together in the late 1960s, at the height of the Black Nationalist movement. They rapped such message songs as “When the Revolution Comes” and “N***ers Are Scared of Revolution.”

“I’ve heard of The Last Poets,” said Shannon.

Original members Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Kenyatte Abdur Rahman also appeared in the film along with Nuridden in separate interviews, along with Chuck D., Ice T, Melle Mel and MC Lyte among others.

Hustlers Convention “is a missing piece of culture,” stated Chuck D.

Added Ice T, “[It is] a huge missing link to hip hop.”

The film makes the point that both Nuriddin, the Poets and Hustlers Convention, the song and the album all are “forgotten influence[s]” of today’s rap and hip hop. It also includes Nuridden’s 2014 performance in London, where he performed Hustlers Convention live for the first time in 40 years.

“I chose the message over the money,” reflected Nuriddin, who back then brought out to the free world what is commonly known behind bars as “toasting.”

He explained in a 2015 BBC.com article, “Toasting was like reminiscing on a highlight of a time in your life when you had everything you wanted but sooner or later you were going to lose it. That’s the point I was making with the Hustlers Convention.”

Now in his 70s living in Atlanta, Nuriddin didn’t come off as some grumpy old rapper in the film. Rather he is introspective, as are his former poet-mates. They tell us in their accustomed matter-of-fact, tell-it-like-it-was-and-is manner that gives the viewer pause to consider.

George Shannon
George Shannon

“They definitely seems to be influences of culture,” said Shannon.

Especially today’s rappers, added Davis: “I think it’s important for any rapper of today’s time to be aware of what you are talking about, what it’s for and where it came from. It was more than money, chains and how many women you had sex with.”

The film didn’t come out and campaign for it, but Hustlers Convention surely makes the case for both Nuriddin and The Last Poets, either individually or collectively, being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, contended Shannon. “I think people need to acknowledge them,” he said.

“I hope and pray that Mr. Jalal gets his recognition after all this time,” concluded Davis. “Today’s generation needs to pay homage to Jalal and who he worked with.”

Hustlers Convention the film successfully does this, as well set the record straight.

For more information about the album and film, go here: http://hustlersconventionfilm.com.


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