The Watts Prophets
The Watts Prophets: Father Amde Hamilton, Otis O'Solomon and Richard Anthony Dedeaux formed out of the Watts Writers Workshop. Which became a cultural laboratory for Black ideology created as a positive gesture in reaction to the 1965 Watts riots. The group's combination of performance poetry with percussive rhythms and improvisational jazz is credited as a forerunner of hip-hop music and has been sampled by rap artists such as Digable Planets, Coolio and Ice Cube.
They were all part of the Watts Writers Workshop. Then a guy by the name of Cassius Weatherby recommended we do our thing together. We entered the Inner City Culture Talent Show and won second place. That led to a 16-week gig at the legendary Maverick's Flat where people like Richard Pryor, Earth Wind & Fire and George Clinton performed. People loved us."
In the '70s, they recorded two legendary albums - Rappin' Black In A White World and In The Streets of Watts - which are nearly impossible to find. They made high-profile guest appearances on Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key of Life and Quincy Jones' Mellow Madness. But given all of their word-of-mouth acclaim, The Watts Prophets received little recognition in comparison to their East Coast counterparts, The Last Poets.
Things that we said on Rappin' Black frightened a lot of people. We were regarded as militants." Song titles like "There's a Difference Between a Black Man and a Nigger" and "I'll Stop Calling You Nigger When You Start Acting Like a Black Man" even put off members of the African-American community. In the early '70s, when President Kennedy was lauded as a saint, the Prophets mocked one of his most famous speeches on Rappin' Black by announcing: "Ask not what you can do for your country, 'cause what the fuck has it done for you?"
As one club owner put it "You guys are going to make a lot of money. But not in this club." Such was the mixture of praise and rejection that would come to characterize the group's career. Excitement from record companies and near-recording contracts spiraled into missed opportunities, most notably a deal with Bob Marley's Tuff Gong label; Marley died before the scheduled recording.
The Watts Prophets believe the government was behind their demise - and they have proof. Darthard Perry, the resident videographer for the Watts Writers Workshop, admitted his work as an FBI informant in a Mother Jones article.
But even though the group was harassed, the members refused to let their message die. They continued to perform on special occasions during Black History Month and for the annual Watts festival, a remembrance day for the 1965 uprising.
The Prophets' misfortune changed in the early '90s when a European tour with Don Cherry reunited them with pianist DeeDee McNeil, a former Motown songwriter and one-time Watts Prophets member. (You can hear the fruits of their extended collaboration with Don Cherry on the 1994 Red Hot + Cool album, Stolen Moments.)
The subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary, Victory Will Be My Moan, The Watts Prophets are finally getting a chance to exhibit their lyrical skills en masse. Payday/ffrr just released When The 90's Came, a provocative mixture of poems written by The Watts Prophets in the '60s as well as more contemporary raps laid over dance and jazz rhythms. Many of the lyrics put the fight for civil rights in a historical context. The title track wails: "When the '90s Came... Malcolm had been reduced to a commercial X/ the Panthers to a movie/ The world psyched into an ethnic fight/ while gun runners grow in economic might."
With DJ Quik and US3 guest-producing a few cuts, The Watts Prophets will no doubt claim their rightful position as originators of West Coast spoken-word performance.
"Back then, it was hard for the public to accept us because we were young and dropping some hard powerful words about reality," says O'Solomon. "Now, we are grey, in our 50s and people believe our wisdom is due to our age. Our urge has always been to write and tell it like you see it no matter what."
- Major Jackson: