Hearing Aide: The Last Poets ‘Understand What Dub Is’

If you were to construct a timeline showing the evolution of hip hop music, where would it begin? Some may think to credit the rhythmic jazz and blues of Bo Diddley, dating as far back as the 1950s. Some may say the birth of hip hop was in the creation of turntables and sampling, made popular with the scratching and beat matching of DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash in the 1970s. Beyond these names, and others that we’ve come to know under the hip hop umbrella, nobody has stood the test of time more than The Last Poets – the spoken word masterminds of the late 1960s, and the true trailblazers of hip hop music.

Fifty years ago, The Last Poets began their ascension into the public sphere using moving poetry and smooth reggae backing tracks as a platform for voicing political activism, describing their experience as children of the civil rights movement. After decades of releasing albums and touring the world, the group released Understand What Black Is is 2018. While followers of the group are forever grateful for new music, it took the dubbing of the album by British producer Prince Fatty to bring this music – and the powerful message of unity and peace – to a younger generation.

In the 2019 dub release of Understand What Dub Is, Prince Fatty adds transient delay and reverb over The Last Poets’ original tracks, keeping many of the album’s elements the same. From simple guitar riffs to decorative flute that decorates the spaces between each stanza, Prince Fatty keeps attention on the resonating lyrics of The Last Poets. At the same time, he tends to bring light to the 1970s -style rhythm in “We Must Be Sacred,” crisping those off beat drum hits. You can hear the chilling melody of “Certain Images” intensify with panning mastery, making it almost comparable to a hook in late hip hop.

It’s clear that Prince Fatty has a deep understanding of The Last Poets’ immense impact on music and culture, as well as other creators of that era. His name, Prince Fatty, is an ode to Jamaican dub engineer, King Tubby, from the 1970s. Prince Fatty’s other successes include working with The Sugarhill Gang, making their mark on Harlem shortly after The Last Poets, with the first organized rap song to date. There’s no doubt that Prince Fatty developed a love for poetry at a young age, and followed this emergence of hip hop over the years, mixing and dubbing along the way. Understand What Dub Is is a tip-of-the-hat to the undefinable emergence of hip hop music, while bringing the inspiring voices of The Last Poets to center pan.

Key Tracks: Certain Images, Understand What Black Is, We Must Be Scared