The West Coast's answer to the Last Poets, The Watts Prophets didn't get quite the same recognition for their contributions to raising black consciousness and laying the foundations for rap. The group was formed at the Watts Writer's Workshop, an organization started by screenwriter Budd Schulberg designed to provide a creative outlet in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots. Father Amde Hamilton (an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, born Anthony Hamilton), Otis O'Solomon, and Richard Dedeaux met in the workshop circa 1967, and soon began performing together as Watts Prophets, setting their socially and politically conscious poetry to spare, often jazzy musical backing. They won second place in an inner-city talent show, which led to a residency at John Daniels' Maverick's Flat club in South Central L.A.; they also performed at fundraisers, in prisons, and around their community whenever possible.
In1969, Watts Prophets debuted with The Black Voices: On the Streets in Watts. Two years later, the group released Rappin' Black in a White World on ALA, with lyrics and vocals provided by former Motown songwriter Dee Dee McNeil. The radical, incendiary tone of their work fit right in with the emerging black power movement, and attracted unfavorable notice from the government; the home of the Watts Writers Project was destroyed by fire in 1975 after having been infiltrated by an FBI informant. Record deals were hard to come by, and were continually falling through (including one with Bob Marley's home, Tuff Gong, that evaporated with Marley's premature death). Still, they remained sporadically active as performers, and were rediscovered by the hip-hop generation as their records were sampled frequently; additionally, O'Solomon's "Hey World" was covered by Ziggy Marley. In 1997, Watts Prophets released an album of new material with pianist Horace Tapscott, When the 90's Came, on Payday/ffrr, which also reissued their two original LPs. The Prophets remain dedicated community activists today, promoting creative self-expression and the arts for young people around Southern California and beyond.
Amde Hamilton, who is a priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, can be seen performing a spoken-word piece at the 1981 funeral service of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the 1982 film Land of Look Behind.
In 1994, the group appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, appearing on a track entitled "Apprehension" alongside Don Cherry. The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African-American society was named "Album of the Year" by Time Magazine.
Finding much support in African American popular music they released two relatively unnoticed albums “Rappin’ Black in a White World” and “From the Streets of Watts” and appeared on “Songs in the Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder, all of which have now become notorious and been cited by Mos Def amongst others. In a modern context its influence on the hip-hop community and slam poetry gatherings such as Def Poetry Jam is undeniable.
Well known rapper DJ Quik, a collaborator and contributor to the Watts Prophets 1997 work “When The 90′s Came”, is one of the many who point to the Watts Prophets as an early source of inspiration. Creating a voice tightly woven with the day to day struggle toward civil rights for African Americans, the Watts Prophets were eventually heard in recordings with popular music legends such as Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley, and have been sampled by artists such as Digable Planets, Coolio and Ice Cube.
After a long battle with cancer, poet and founding member of the legendary Watts Prophets, Richard Anthony Dedeaux passed away at home in Shelton, Washington at 10:45 PM PST, Tuesday night, December 3rd 2013. He was 73.
Clay Corley Sr.
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