The cultural bridge between African-American art forms in the ’60s and ’70s and what would eventually become Hip-Hop as we know it has been the subject of countless documentaries, books, academic papers, and of course, songs. However, despite all of the devotion to preserving the history behind the culture, there are those who are lost, forgotten, or never even recognized as having played integral roles in the birth of Hip-Hop. While names like DJ Kool Herc, Joe Conzo, and Sylvia Robinson are familiar to most Heads, Jalal Nuriddin, Lightnin’ Rod, and Hustlers Convention have been largely obfuscated by years of passing time. However, that may all soon change, thanks to the efforts some particularly dedicated art lovers.
On Malcolm X’s birthday in 1968, Marcus Garvey Park in East Harlem served as the site for the birth of the Last Poets, an umbrella term for a host of artists and musicians who rose to prominence during and after the Civil Rights Era, turning to various forms of art as sources for the social and political mobilization of African-Americans. While comprised in its original form of Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, and David Nelson, the Last Poets would take on various forms and constitutions, one of which was led by Nuriddin, who also released albums under the pseudonym of Lightnin’ Rod. In 1973, he released Hustlers Convention, a seminal piece of Black Art that has been heralded by Grandmaster Caz, Fab 5 Freddy, and Grandmaster Melle Mel as insurmountably influential in the cultivation of the next generation’s Black Art: Hip-Hop.
The most direct influence, artistically, was Nuriddin’s use of toasting throughout the album, in the particular style of “jail toasting.” In his own words, these pseudo spoken-word stories “were rhyming jokes but they didn’t have much content…I felt something new needed to be done to lay down the whys and wherefores of street life, its attractions and distractions.” Those whys and wherefores took the form of Sport and Spoon, two hustling brothers whose dalliances with drugs, money, and sex depicted the real-life experiences of countless Black youth in New York City’s ghettos.
For several years after its release, the album was influencing the developing consciousness of men and women who would become the cultural purveyors of their own surroundings. Fab 5 Freddy, in an interview with the Guardian, shares “I memorised it and would recite it to friends on my block, then someone told me it was based on a record. I stumbled upon that and passed it on. Hip street guys like Melle Mel would know about it. I could hear the influence in their raps.” Hip street guys like that are responsible for imbuing much of Hip-Hop’s earliest works with bits of Hustlers Convention. “Sport” can be heard on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Method Man” and the Beastie Boys’ “Egg Man;” on Main Source’s “Snake Eyes,” and “Brother Hominy Grit” on the D.O.C.’s “It’s Funky Enough,” just to name an iota.
More than 40 years after its initial release, the album will be performed in its entirety in London next month, but Heads all over the world will have an opportunity to learn more about the overlooked piece of history in a forthcoming film directed by Mike Todd and produced by Chuck D, scheduled for a late 2015 release. Until then, stream the album in its entirety right here, through Spotify.