Monday, February 11, 2008

Vulgar folk poetry of the urban Negro

Comedian Rudy Ray Moore rose to ghetto fame in the 1970s by performing “toasts” – a kind of profane street poetry rooted in the criminal subculture.

But years before Mr. Moore recorded such classic toasts as “Dolemite” and “Pimpin’ Sam,” this peculiar oral tradition had captured the attention of white folklorists.

They documented toasts – some told by prison inmates back in the 1950s – in books such as “The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler” and “Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia.”

One such folklorist is Bruce Jackson (pictured), now a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Jackson’s book on the subject – “Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me” – was originally published in 1974 by the Harvard University Press.

In 1998, Prof. Jackson released some of his field recordings on CD, under the same title. I am streaming one of his collected toasts on my Vox audio stash.

Click here to hear “Get In Out of the Rain,” a toast recited by the man who wrote it. In the book, his name is given as Peter. This was recorded in 1966 at the Wynne Prison Farm in Hunstville, Texas.

“Get In Out of the Rain” isn’t a criminal-minded toast. It’s an amusingly vulgar slice of life inspired by true events.

If it whets your appetite for more, “Get Your Ass in the Water...” is downloadable from iTunes and Amazon.


Christopher Chambers said...

Stanley Crouch might come slap you for showcasing stuff like this, hahaha, but it is amusing, and of artistic merit. It's these fools out here now who are bastardizing real folkways and folkore and attempting to call it "street lit" or dirty south hip hop who piss me off...

dj said...

As much Dolemite and Blowfly as I have,the best example of "toasts" to come out of this era,would have to be Lightnin' Rod's(Jalal Nuriddin of Last Poets)-Hustler's Convention LP and the previous track featuring Hendrix & Buddy Miles-Doriella Du Fontaine.

This is pure poetry and the music just serves as a bonus.

I can close my eyes and picture every moment of Hustler's Convention as the narrative is told with enough detail and attitude,you can taste and feel it.

Brian said...

George Clinton did The Titanic: Get Yo Ass In the Water And Swim Like Me a few years ago.

Here is a link to amaozon for the amazon mps download:

I was looking for a release date for the clinton disc and found this link too:

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks, Brian. I remember that Clinton joint when it came out about 8 or 10 years ago. Not the best track in the world; George's voice was far along on its tragic wane.

But thanks for that Funkmaster J link. I've toyed around with the idea of trying to build a cinematic narrative around "Hustler's Convention," with a lot of traditional toasts thrown in. Concept would be to treat these toasts like iambic pentameter, and to tell the whole story of the movie through metered rhyme.

(That could wear thin really fast thought. Still pondering it.)

dj said...

I've been doing more than pondering that for years,either in film form or with the same crew up here(Rockstar Toronto) that did the video game treatment for "The Warriors",as I know some of those guys.

In the film version,always envisioned it in the style of "Heavy Traffic" with animation for the wilder scenes and live action for the set ups.

I also had thought because the length of the LP is not that of a feature film,to expand from the ending,bringing it 30 odd years into the future and allowing the narrtive to adapt to a more modern style.

Between those that respect the original for what it is and those who have been influenced by it in their current world,the casting could be a dream to put together,from the classic actors and musicians to the more current artists.

The soundtrack alone of old and new would be a smash.

Why am I spilling the beans?
I always knew I wasn't the only one who ever listened to this recording and started visualising it,but after repeated attempts to find out about the rights and even contacting Jalal directly in France.No luck :(

I would still love to see this happen regardless of who makes it happen

Till then,it will still continue to play in the theatre of my mind as part of a double feature.

Undercover Black Man said...

... the casting could be a dream to put together...

Who could play Doriella du Fontaine? ;^)

You're right, the rights issue would be a nightmare. And my interest is less in the "music" per se (Hollywood would wanna stuff the thing with rappers) but as an exercise in stylized acting. Treat the text like Shakespeare, which means getting actors with the serious theater chops to make it explode in performance.

But, shit... I'm too busy bloggin'...

dj said...

Soon as you say Shakespeake(or Willie Shakes in this case),your favorite,Jeffery Wright spings into my head,chops for days.

I know we could come up with a dream casting list in a moment,but as you say,all for naught.

dj said...

wow,you get to spell check my first draft,many typos already.