Dead Prez is probably the most politically radical group whose work has entered the hip-hop canon. The two rappers - M-1 and stic.man - behind the pan-African, neo-Marxist group met in college (Florida A&M) in 1990, released their first single, "(It's Bigger than) Hip-hop," in 1999 (which went on to be used as the intro to Chapelle's Show) and have since been in the tenuous spot of balancing major label contracts and mainstream exposure with calls for direct action and armed protest ("Time to get free / Blow up like Cincinnati" the duo urged, referring to then-recent 2001 riots in Cincinnati on "Juicy").
Dead Prez's most recent single, "Politrikkks," released shortly before the presidential election, spoke out against both major candidates: "Even if Obama wins, Uncle Sam ain't my friend," goes the song's chorus.
The group takes very seriously the axiom that hip-hop is the voice of the people, but even with such heavy subject matter, the music is still relevant to those they are trying most to reach.
Dead Prez will be at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington Wednesday, Feb. 26 along with Indy's Mudkids.
I spoke via phone with M-1 in advance of the show.
NUVO: Can you tell me about the upcoming Dead Prez album and what to expect?
M-1: Dead Prez is hard at work on a few different projects, all toward the same goal of bringing the presence and awareness of DP into political light. We just finished a project with DJ Green Lantern. A mix tape, but more like an album with original songs on it - but presented in a format that's more for the street. That's called "Pulse of the People." It will more than likely be out in April. It's to let people know the Dead Prez album, Information Age, is on the way, set to scorch the Earth and get everything well seasoned. It's a different sound. Synthetic soul is the best way I can say it. It's futuristic, like Africa Bambaataa. And DeadPrez.com is going to be a whole another platform to release exclusive music, and a platform for dialog with us.
NUVO: Can I get your opinion on the election?
M-1: Well, I guess you can call it an election. It's really a freak election. What you had was a contest between the two candidates about which part of imperialism to resurrect. It's comedy. I don't buy all "This is a joyful moment for the people" stuff - none of that. I think all of that was a hoax. They pulled that one over with a whole bunch of money. Not to mention managing to select a charismatic African who was able to activate the imagination of a people who ain't seen liberty, and only a limited amount of progress, over the last 50 years. And the other candidate, McCain, he emerged straight from the annals of white power. It's what America had to do to continue with the same old style.
Until we can weaken imperialism, there will be no justice for any of us at all. Does that make me against Obama? No. It makes me against imperialism. The reason I'm being so specific about it is because we're so caught in thinking about this charismatic fellow, and if you challenge that, it's unpopular thinking. We saw that when we put out our leadoff single, "Politrikkks," by the reaction of the people that it can get pretty hairy.
NUVO: How do you feel about the notion that we live in a post-racial society?
M1: Well, anybody with a brain could see what happened to Obama, that race was a factor every time. It was evident [in the primaries] in New Hampshire, where he was predicted to have a landslide and then ended up losing, so a lot of the pledged votes didn't go his way behind closed doors. I just have to point that out. A lot of people don't study and don't know the facts. So I can say once again: bullshit. Because since his election to office there have been thousands and thousands of death threats against his life coming from Americans disgruntled about the way this country is being led under this black man. Making it more evident that this is not a post-race America, it is a blind-eyed America who would have a euphoric glaze of post-racial conflict because that would make it an all the more easier pill to swallow when Obama comes to kick ass on the black community, and believe me it's gonna happen.
NUVO: Do you ever feel like you're working against other hip-hop artists, comparing their messages against your own?
M1: I would have to say, from the outside, yes. But the reality is I don't even recognize hip-hop as having a brain of its own. Because a lot of the ideas found inside hip-hop art are ideas implanted in the Africans by the ruling class. So I can't blame any of the artists for things they say, whether they're dealing drugs or killing each other or disrespecting our women; these are learned behaviors. So when I see the words flying out of the mouth of Lil' Wayne, I don't even see Lil' Wayne. I see the white man who programmed him. And that's who we are working against. We are swimming upstream in an industry of hip-hop that does not appreciate music that cultivates culture.
NUVO: What is it about your music and message that can attract such a diverse crowd from different backgrounds?
M1: I think people identify with understanding how this thing works. From the system where often conclusions don't conclude. Explanations that don't explain. We have been misinformed or uninformed at every turn. Me as an African, not an African-American, [I] feel that if we're to change the system in any kind of way, we're going to have to be the ones to bring it to light.
Wherever you are, whether you're white or black, rich or poor, if you want to have some kind of meaningful existence in this lifetime, then you have to see and examine from the point of view of the oppressed person. Which is the point of view of Dead Prez.
T.J. Reynolds is an artist, educator, poet and musician in the band The Philosophy.