Harlem spoken word / rap pioneers The Last Poets have passed through numerous different configurations since the collective’s birth in the late sixties, with the current lineup of Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Baba Donn Babatunde releasing the band’s first new album in 21 years ‘Understand What Black Is’ earlier this year on UK label Studio Rockers. A few months on, this 12” EP offers up a remix companion, with remixes of the title track by 4Hero’s Dego McFarlane alongside former Bugz In The Attic member Kaidi Tatham, as well as Digital Mystikz’s Mala.
In its original album mix form, ‘Understand What Black Is’ fuses rippling, low slung live instrumentation beneath the dense verbal wordplay, as skanking guitar riffs and majestic horn arrangements conspire with the reverb-treated off beats to take things off into dubby territory – as a comeback effort, it certainly sits alongside the stronger parts of The Last Poets’ past work.
Dego McFarlane and Kaidi Tatham offer up two divergent reworkings here, the first welding jazzy horn vamps to a clattering undercarriage of broken two-step rhythms in a manner that harks back to early noughties UK garage’s flirtation with Giles Peterson-friendly nu-jazz, before the second hiphop-oriented mix drops the pace down, placing a clattering boom-bap beat against flashes of clavinet keys, moody horns and lashings of thick live bass.
While both aforementioned mixes are certainly strong, I found that Mala’s remix edged them out, recasting the original as ghostly pared-back ragga dubstep that sends feathery arpeggios rolling against woody percussion fills and snapping snares, the entire track rolling with a curious sense of weightlessness, even as vast sub-bass swells and lurches in the background. A more than worthy return from the original masters.