Following Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime show, there has been new interest in the Black Panther Party. Unbeknownst to many, Tampa and St. Petersburg have their place in Black Panther history.
On August 28, 1989, the Black Panther Party laid founding member Huey P. Newton to rest. Among the pallbearers was Kenny Waters, aka Kenny K, the first hip-hop DJ in Tampa. From Sept 11, 1989 Jet Magazine:
The Uhuru Party mentioned in the caption is currently located in St. Petersburg, Florida and was founded by Omali Yeshitela. From the 1970s to 1981, the Uhurus and the African People’s Socialist Party were headquartered in St. Pete. In 1981, the Uhuru Party moved to Oakland. This enabled the movement to be closer to the Black Panthers. This picture of Omali and Huey Newton is from asiuhuru.org:
In this background and during this counterculture connection between Oakland and St. Pete, Digital Underground was formed and Kenny K first took to the airwaves of WMNF, Tampa’s community conscious radio. According to hiphopandpolitics.com,
Digital started off being a Black Panther type group. They formed under the name Spice Regime with a game plan of focusing on Black social issues.. They even started to sport black berets similar to the Panthers.
Kenny K meanwhile had connections to Uhuru and pro-Black leaders in hip-hop such as Chuck D of Public Enemy and KRS-One. These connections made him a prominent voice in the Black community.
In my quest to document his life, I have not yet found out how Kenny K became affiliated with Uhuru. I have heard Kenny was close with the Panthers and the Nation of Islam, but I have not talked to anyone yet. Hopefully soon.
Shortly after Newton’s funeral, the Uhuru House moved back to St. Pete, where they have been since. Digital Underground relocated to Oakland where Shock G met the poetic son of two Black Panthers, a young aspiring MC named Tupac Shakur.
And the rest is hip-hop history.