Dusting Off…Lightnin’ Rod’s 'Hustlers Convention'
What is it?
Hustlers Convention is one of those records whose influence is much larger than its own reputation; thanks to legal complications, it was withdrawn from sale shortly after its release in 1973 by its record label, United Artists, leaving the record as a largely word-of-mouth phenomenon. Its chief creator is a man named Jalaluddin ‘Jalal’ Mansur Nuriddin, better known as Lightnin’ Rod, one of the founders of the influential beat poet / rap collective The Last Poets. The album is considered to be one of the forerunners to the birth of the New York rap scene in the 1970s and 80s, and proved hugely influential on early rap pioneers like Melle Mel and The Sugar Hill Gang.
What’s it like?
Musically, Hustlers Convention is beat poet-style spoken word over a funky, Blaxploitation–era backdrop reminiscent of Isaac Hayes or Gil Scott Heron. It’s essentially a concept album based around the story of 2 brothers named Sport and Spoon, following their trials growing up and hustling their way through life in the Brooklyn ghettos. The record’s lyrical style is born out of a developing urban tradition known as “Jail Toasts” – a form of street poetry infused with storytelling and bragging that became an early precursor to rap battles.
The album was described by Public Enemy’s Chuck D as a ‘roadmap’ for hip-hop, and although Lightnin’ Rod himself expressed regret at the record’s supposed ‘glamourisation’ of the hustler lifestyle that proved influential in later years on the West-coast ‘Gangsta Rap’ scene, its narrative provided an essential voice from inside black communities in the 1970s. The album’s influence is widespread despite its disastrous initial release, having been sampled by everyone from The Beastie Boys to Wu-Tang Clan, earning Jala the nickname 'The Grandfather of Rap'.
There’s also no better time to check out the album because Jalal will be performing the album live with The Jazz Warriors at London’s Jazz Café on Monday 10th February. The album is the subject of an upcoming documentary feauring Jalal himself, as well as hip-hop stalwarts like KRS-ONE. You can view the trailer below...
Who will enjoy it?
If you enjoy hip-hop and beat poetry or are into Blaxploitation films this should be right up your street, but anyone who enjoys funk and soul music or acid jazz will also find plenty to enjoy on this much under-appreciated album.