JALAL MANSUR NURIDDIN, MALIK AL NASIR, JUSTJAMAAL, IAN KETEKU, YUSRA KHOGALI and WALEED ABDULHAMID as part of Kuumba's Dispatches From Tomorrow, at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (February 6), 9 pm. $15-$20. harbourfrontcentre.com.
Hip-hop culture would be very different today if not for Jalal Mansur Nuriddin. His pioneering work in the 60s with influential Brooklyn collective the Last Poets and his groundbreaking 1973 solo album, Hustlers Convention (recorded under the pseudonym Lightnin' Rod), helped introduce rhyming over rhythms to the larger culture.
Nuriddin acknowledges the connection between contemporary hip-hop and his earlier poetry and music experiments, but he also sees his work as distinct from the kinds filling the pop charts, made by what he refers to as "candy rappers."
"If you want bubblegum, that's bubblegum, but if you want chewing gum, well, that's different," Nuriddin says over the phone from his home in Georgia.
"You need to ascertain the meaning of life, and the meaning of strife. One has to also be a student of history in order to unravel certain mysteries. As well as a student of hypocrisy. You have to do your homework so that you know what you're talking about. If not, then you're into nursery rhymes."
There's something hypnotic but also unnerving about Nuriddin's tendency to speak in rhyme. Even when we're talking about the weather, his phrases are delivered in careful rhythm, and he launches into complex, colourful metaphors to expand on his ideas.
A frequent theme is the necessity of studying and understanding history, and he often turns to historical and mythical examples to illustrate his points. When asked about the cultural impact of Hustlers Convention, he quickly shifts the conversation to the historical roots of the street hustler stories he talks about on the album.
"It's a subculture, and that's the culture of dog-eat-dog and survive by any means necessary. Oppressed people have a tendency to turn on themselves, especially if they are imitating or emulating a culture which they are originally not from. Everything here [in the U.S.] is race and class. And race is really a contest, which is institutionalized here, embedded in the psyche and in the history.
"This country is in political turmoil. I had to coin a phrase for it: I call it 'the polarization vortex.' It's on the horizon. This country has to make up its mind whether it's going to carry the baggage of the past forward or leave that behind and move forward."
Read our Q&A with Malik Al Nasir here.