The true roots of rap

Hustlers Convention tells the story of the 1973 album of the same name. While largely forgotten by history, it is regarded as a cornerstone in the evolution of Hip Hop. Its creator, Lightnin’ Rod, aka Jalal Nuriddin of The Last Poets, is affectionately known in some circles as ‘The Grandfather of Rap’ for his contribution to the genre.

The album is an epic rhymed story of a fast-talking hustler by the name of Sport. The music is provided by Kool & the Gang and Buddy Miles among many others. It is a street tale of card sharks, gamblers, dope peddlers and thieves. The likes of Melle Mel and Fab 5 Freddy can still recite it word for word. Wu Tang, the Beastie Boys and Jungle Brothers have all paid homage to it.

The documentary, is conceived as a way to tell the story, perhaps for the first time, of the true roots of rap.

By exploring the life and times of Jalal, we gain an insight into how when his street rhyming style, based on the African American jail toast tradition, met the black power politics of the post-Malcolm X era, the art of rap as we know it today was born.

By understanding how Jalal adapted this style to an original work that reflected the urban, political consciousness of the black power movement – a tradition continued by later acts such as Public Enemy and KRS One – we can, through the lens of Hustlers Convention, understand how and why Hip Hop music evolved as it did.

One of the fundamental reasons Hustlers Convention is so little known, despite its profound influence, is the fact that legal disputes caused the record to be shelved in the early stages of distribution. This meant that its street level impact often came through word of mouth and bootlegs.

Not only did Jalal never see any financial reward for what he deems his ‘masterpiece’ it also never received the true critical recognition it deserved for its cultural influence.

The observational arc of the film follows Jalal on an intimate journey as, for the first time in forty years, he performs Hustlers Convention live before a sell out crowd in London. This, combined with the heartfelt recognition that Hip Hop icons such as Chuck D, KRS One, Melle Mel and many others give to the album and its influence mean the film, which in a way becomes part of Jalal’s own story, builds to a final understanding of the true significance of Jalal and his work.

He finally has his place in history…as the true Grandfather of Rap.

Mike Todd