Doug Schulkind's
Sound Mind

Oku Onuora, the Real O.G.

So where do you come down on gangsta rap? Personally, I don't give a shit about the dangerous message it sends "our kids," anything that shakes up suburban parents can't be all bad. To my ears, though, it has little more to offer than the testosteronic hijinx of professional wrestling. Given the suburban origins of many of its practitioners, I suppose it's just about as genuine.

For my money the best actual gangsta rapper on the planet has to be Oku Onuora. This part-Chinese, part-Jamaican dub poet from the streets of East Kingston has more authentic Original Gangsta chops than the entire Death Row Records posse put together. A practicing Rastafarian by the age of sixteen, Oku help found a community-based education project to assist dropouts and poor kids whose parents couldn't afford their schooling. When he was nineteen, Oku held up a post office in a effort to raise funds for the struggling youth center. He was arrested but escaped several times -- once by vaulting out a second-story courthouse window. He was ultimately subdued with the help of five police bullets and received a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.

Oku spent most of his time inside writing and "performing" poetry for fellow inmates. Once, during his incarceration, he read his poetry with a live reggae band playing behind him. This innovation of setting poetry to music caught on, both in Jamaica and Brixton, and the dub poetry movement was born. Oku's writing served up hard-edged images of struggle in the face of oppressive ghetto realities. His first collection of poems was confiscated by prison officials but other efforts were smuggled out and printed in various publications. As his reputation grew the pressure to have him released grew with it and finally, after seven years, he was given an unprecedented reprieve, granting his freedom.

Since his release in 1977, Oku Onuora has continued to record and perform his dub poetry, which he (along with Mutabaruka and Linton Kwesi Johnson) helped invent more than a decade before the first transparent posturings of gangsta rap.

Doug Schulkind
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