(Photo credit: Malik Al Nasir)
If you’re a fan of hip-hop, whether you know it or not, you are in debt to Jalal Nuriddin. Also known as Lightnin’ Rod, Nuriddin released his seminal ‘Hustlers Convention’ LP in 1973, a ground-breaking record that broke boundaries, narrating the story of the fictional hustlers Sport and Spoon, combining poetry, funk, jazz and toasting.
Jalal Nuriddin was also a founding member of The Last Poets, a group of poets and musicians that evolved organically out of Harlem in the 1960s.
With such a firm place in the foundations of hip hop, the music I love, it was a huge honour to get the opportunity to interview the man himself.
Q. We know you’ve got the Hustler’s Convention 40th Anniversary gig coming up on 10th February, at the Jazz Café in London, can you start by telling us a bit more about what that gig is for and what exactly it means?
Well basically, I’m doing a documentary about the history of the Hustlers Convention itself. Hustlers Convention is the grandfather of rap records…and I’m the grandfather of rap courtesy of the international Herald Tribute that gave me that title. I made the record not to promote hustling but to identify the two different types of hustlers, and also to point out that most of the negative aspects of hustling will lead to a bad demise. So that’s why I wrote the record, as far as the gig is concerned it’s really part of the documentary that I’m making, so I’ll be performing it for that purpose…and it’ll be a one off.
Q. You mentioned the documentary that your currently making (with director Mike Todd). It sounds like it’ll give a lot of people part of a story they’ve never heard before, that they didn’t know about?
Yeah…that was deliberate.
Q. Your support acts for the gig at Jazz Café include Malik & the OGs. You’re often cited as a mentor to him, like he’s been a student of yours, what’s the story behind this?
Yeah, he’ll be opening the show for me. He’s my spiritual student, he was actually Gil Scott’s student, and Gil Scott was my student, so he (Malik) was my student’s student. The difference is, he got more under his belt, because Gil only took one lesson and made a career out of it. He needed at least ten, so he missed out on nine, there’s more to being a poet then just writing and reciting, you know, you really have to spend a lifetime aligning your spiritual self, with your physical self with your mental self, you can’t neglect one for the other.
Q. Is that something you try to put across in your work?
This is what it takes to get through life, gaining knowledge and converting knowledge into wisdom, but I spent my life making sense out of nonsense,that’s basically what Hustler’s Convention was about. I wrote the last verse to illustrate what we today call the one percent class, you know the people have to hustle and scuffle. You see hustle means to move fast, but it also means to con somebody, and I was trying to get people not to go there, cos it’s all glitz and glamour until you get there. It’s almost like Disney’s version of Pinnochio where they take him to some kind of Disneyland but they really turning them all into asses, you know cos it’s all a lie, but the worst part was he believed the lie.
Q. Back when you were making the Hustler’s Convention LP, did you intend for it to have the massive cultural impact that it did, or was that something that took you by surprise?
No, not at all. You see, I was born a poet, I’m not a made poet, so I was fulfilling my destiny. Secondly, I was selecting my subject matter so that when I wrote about something I knew what I was talking about, either from my own experience, or speaking to people about their experiences, or reading about people’s experience.
Q. So why did you first set out to make the record?
Hutler’s Convention was hustled, the record itself was hustled, I wrote it to prove a point. The point was we’re hustling and scuffling and WE’RE being hustled, I wanted people to know that all that glitters is not gold. The Hustler’s Convention is the legacy of slavery. There’s an unwritten code of ethics within hustling, if you work harder than everyone else, you hustle harder, then you should do well, but if you con somebody out of what they’ve been hustling for, then that’s a crime, a crime against the person and a crime against society.
Q. Was there a message behind the Hustler’s Convention LP?
Hustler’s Convention is about two characters, who are saving themselves by any means necessary, it wasn’t like they were educated at Harvard, you know they was already facing discrimination by coming from the ghetto. They had to use their wits, without actually breaking the law because then they would go to jail, and the younger one did go to jail. You can hustle righteously and honestly, you just gotta practice.
Q. What happened after the record was released?
They took this record off the market, for forty years, the record was hustled and sold on the periphery for the next forty years. The gig is supposed to be a celebration of the anniversary of the classic album, that is actually an audio movie, actually it’s a courtroom drama without the court. The people who’ve been hustling the record will be there, cos they don’t want their cool blown. They violated a rule, the main rule of hustling, don’t blow your cool. When you pull a con you gotta make sure you don’t get caught, that nobody knows how you did it, how it was done, once that’s figured out your hustle is no longer a hustle. So now it’s really getting interesting cos those hustlers will be there trying to butter me up with the way forward, when they don’t wanna deal with the way backwards. They cost me a solo career, people missed the point of the record.
Q. Is there any more to the story of Hustlers Convention?
I’ve written a sequel, The Hustlers Detention. That sequel is two hours and five minutes long, the recital, that’s without music. It goes into depth now, you find out what he learns in prison, it’s heavy man, it’s heavy.
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