The Watts Prophets: A 1960-Era West Coast Band of Poets That Sparked Hip-Hop Culture

0 Posted by - September 19, 2020 - Black Culture

Photo credits: Ed Colver for WattsProphets.org

Following California’s Watts Riots of 1965, a rallying cry for revolutionary action was creatively representing justice on behalf of the black community of Amerca’s Pacific Coast. The creative force that sprung into action to lead this effort was called The Watts Prophets, a team of poets who help shape what ultimately became hip-hop culture.

Like their contemporaries The Last Poets, The Watts Prophets combined elements of jazz music and spoken-word performance, making the trio a forerunner of contemporary hip-hop music.  In their beginning, the group comprised Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton, and Otis Solomon.  They collaborated at the Watts Writers Workshop, created by Budd Schulberg two years after the 1965 Watts Riots.  At the time, the 20th century Civil Rights Movement was beginning to take a new cultural turn.  

Blending music with jazz and funk roots, and rapid-fire, spoken-word poetry, they created a sound that gave them a local following. They released two albums, 1969’s The Black Voices: On the Streets in Watts and 1971’s Rappin’ Black in a White World, which established a strong tendency toward social commentary and a reputation for militancy. The group was unable to secure a promising deal with Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong label and they have performed only sporadically since the mid-1970s.  

Hamilton performed a spoken-word piece at the 1981 funeral service of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the 1982 film Land of Look Behind.  In 1994, the group appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, appearing on a track entitled “Apprehension” alongside Don Cherry. The album meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African America was named “Album of the Year” by Time Magazine.  

In a 1997 recording, When the ’90s Came, found them in the studio with pianist Horace Tapscott, and a European tour reunited the trio with former collaborator DeeDee McNeil. In 2005, Things Gonna Get Greater: The Watts Prophets 1969-1971 combined the group’s first two efforts, bringing them back into print.  Richard Dedeaux died in December 2013.  

References: Watts Profits.org and The All Music Guide

*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report

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