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Watts Prophet founding member Richard A. Dedeaux succumbs

He was 73

Gregg Reese | 12/11/2013, midnight

With its provocative cover depicting a Black child cradling a rifle superimposed over a collage of South Central photos, and track titles like “Amerikkka,” “Dem Ngers Ain’t Playing,” and “Fked” (all written by Dedeaux), the message of The Watts Prophets wasn’t exactly conducive to air play on middle-of-the-road radio formats, or even deliberately edgy playlists.

Due to the inflammatory nature of their lyrics, a void developed between them and elements of the community, who “kept us at a distance.” Always more interested in critiquing their own community than lambasting White society, The Watts Prophets believed this was a major obstacle to their gaining mass exposure like their contemporaries Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets.

Part of the appeal of the Watts Prophets lay in their delivery. Not content to merely recite their verse in the manner of a traditional poetry reading, they utilized memory in the fashion of the West African griots, which allowed them to improvise as they went along, emulating the Jazz instrumentalists they idolized, and laying the foundation for “free style” Rap, the approach that informs the delivery of contemporary artists like Dom Kennedy, Ice Cube, and Kendrick Lamar.

Performing live, they engaged the audience as active participants, with Dedeaux utilizing his acting and theatre background to captivate listeners with his body language. In a group noted for its uncompromising militancy, Dedeaux stood out for his biting sarcasm.

At the time of his death, Dedeaux was a long-term resident of Shelton, Wash. where he lived surrounded by a band of relatives. A creative force to the very end, his output often included premonitions of his own demise:

Death’s Doorstep

On many occasions I’ve stared death in the face

And through some strange twist of fate

Always managed to escape

Some say it’s because it wasn’t my time to go.

Well somebody must’ve give him my address

‘Cause now DEATH’S standing on my damned doorstep!!!