Southern California

Watts Prophets Gave Voice to Community's Concerns

Any look back at the days of outrage and violence in Watts 50 years ago would be incomplete without including the Watts Prophets.

Southern California's 60s-era spoken-word artists chronicled the mayhem, pioneering a style many call a forerunner to today’s hip-hop.

Three young poets — Otis O'Solomon, Amde Hamilton and the late Richard Dedeaux — bonded in The Watts Writers Workshop and formed the group that transmitted street stories mixed with jazz into America's conscience.

Today, the Watts Prophets are proud of their legacy, whether it's widely known or not.

"Another day of trying to open an area of expression for those with no area of expression — that's where we found ourselves in the 60s — with no area of expression,” Hamilton recalled. “And that's how this form, rap music, came about. Opening that area of expression."

When people think of art and Watts, they naturally think of the Watts Towers. Simon Rodia's handcrafted masterpiece that took 33 years to build was just nine years old in 1965.

The Watts Prophets emerged from this same community after 1965 with a brand of artistic expression that influenced the world, and modern artists celebrated the group at a recent Watts 50 concert.

"I am offspring of The Watts Prophets. I am offspring of their tutelage," said the performer who goes by the name Food4Thot.

As images of Watts on fire projected overhead, NBC4 spoke backstage with the surviving members of the Watts Prophets.

"I see things that we went through many years ago, a lot of youth, the community in general continue to go through it right now," said Otis O’Solomon.

Hamilton seconded his thought.

"The past is history. The future is mystery. Now is new," he said.

Both remain observant and hopeful.

"I say the good outnumber the bad. Even with all the stuff that's going on," O’Solomon said.

He said he is trusting emerging new voices to help keep society from repeating mistakes and to call it out when it does.

"People revolt because five things,” Food4Thot said. “Five things: Poor schools, poor housing, police brutality, no health care and no jobs. That's what cause revolts."

Hamilton said he’s pleased to know that there are young artists willing to pick up the mantle.

"I'm very happy to see that the youth are listening. And some of them are trying to do something about what they see today."

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