Dead Prez bring Revolution to Vancouver [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Dead Prez are a rare breed: not only are their lyrics not centered on the superficial money/bitches/guns themes one finds so much in hip-hop, but they actually speak out against that glossy sheen. Dead Prez rap about many things – power dynamics, health, slavery both literal and figurative, justice, clean water and peace, to name a few – and they do it with style.
Perhaps the easiest comparison is George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a classic allegory for the Stalin era upon which M1 and stic.man based their track “Animal in Man.” It has all the makings of a children’s story – a farmer, cows, pigs – but takes a chilling twist into political surrealism. Dead Prez, likewise, sound pretty good and can easily draw people into their sound, but they come with a motivation to transform minds and inspire revolution.
In the fourteen years that Dead Prez have been actively grounding hip-hop with an unapologetically political agenda, they have worked with everyone from the Outlawz to the Coup, making waves and bringing up the people. HipHopCanada was honored to spend some time with stic.man and M1 to talk about books, Bruce Lee, and of course, revolution.
HipHopCanada: So first time in Vancity for you guys… excited?
M1: I’m super excited, pumped up. We had to recall that it was our first time cause sometimes we come through this border, but I can’t wait, man.
stic.man: Sold out tonight, ready to do it.
HipHopCanada: Your music is really known for being political, but how does music translate into a practical function in society?
M1: Our music has a function that is totally related to people doing. It’s not just about people listening or even an isolated activity out of context, like a dance you do that has nothing related to the culture. It is part of a whole symphony of things that happen. For me, when we say the things we’re talking about, we’re intending for an audience to receive it and in some way, whether they don’t do nothing or pass it to somebody who can relate to it who will do something, that’s how we are instrumental. People can utilize what we put out, ultimately for the purposes of freeing ourselves up from the situation that we’re in. And if you don’t wanna do that then I don’t know why you wanna fuck with us in the first place. Our shit is strictly about changing the way things are right now into something that we have not been in before. So we hope that people will hear that and be able to do that – so many different ways that people can be involved in that but our music is just this role.
HipHopCanada: What would your revolution look like?
stic.man: Revolution is change, fundamental change. Even the term revolution requires revolution, because people get stuck in dogmas and people get stuck in thinking that revolution is communism versus capitalism and it’s only that. But I think for me and my partner, our growth and evolution in working in movements like the Uhuru movement, working in different Malcolm X grassroots movements, doing our music, and the ministry of liberation that we do, we’ve come to grow in a lot of different ways. You can’t spell revolution without evolution, and it’s also about evolving as human beings beyond slaves, beyond limitation, beyond the boxes. For me it’s very practical in the sense that, how do you apply this to your life? If you recognize the schools ain’t teaching us shit, what do you replace that with? What is the alternative? And it’s about that search for alternatives that are sustainable – on a religious, spiritual, economic, health, physical, political, every plane of life. That’s what our music is trying to inspire.
HipHopCanada: Who is expendable in a revolution?
M1: In a revolution, everybody’s expendable. We all have a role to play, and who knows when it’s your time. Oscar Grant wasn’t Bobby Hutton or Huey Newton, he was a young African citizen of our African would-be nation, murdered as a colonial subject, and he wasn’t known for starting no riots or nothing. But his name can now be used to be able to evoke emotion for people that do that. And in that role, that’s what we all have to play, to be inspiration in some way or another so that people can gain through what we’re doing. So in this revolution if we’re not participating – like my mentor Doc – Mutulu Shakur says – “dare to struggle, dare to win.” Like Fred Hampton Sr. of the Black Panther party says, “if you don’t dare to struggle then damnit, you don’t deserve the victory.” So if you dare to struggle with me, then you could possible give your life or be expendable in this particular way.
HipHopCanada: You’ve collaborated with the Outlawz on a couple of projects and Young Noble recently told me in an interview how he receives letters from prison about how You Can’t Sell Dope Forever really inspired people. Have you had similar feedback?
M1: Hell yeah. I’ve been able to see our music as a real reflection that peope live by, and that’s what’s genuine about the music we make. Shout out to the Outlawz and Noble, who also did an album with stic.man “Soldier 2 Soldier” that’s incredible. These two brothers, Noble and stic, they are participators in growth, and they are able to expound on growth in a fantastic way, so it’s good to see these brothers build. We definitely have heard people say things happened because they heard whatever song, and I like to say it had nothing to do with me. It’s totally not subjective. Objectively, I was trained to be able to do what I do by people who were O.Gs who walked the line and paid a price.
HipHopCanada: Your track “Animal In Man” is based on Orwell’s Animal Farm, are there other literary sources that inspire you?
stic.man: Yeah definitely, I’m a huge reader as entertainment, as education, as therapy, as communication. I feel like reading is something that when you’re locked up, wherever you’re at, waiting in the welfare line, wherever, you can always begin taking in information, so I constantly read. I think Bruce Lee’s writing is revolutionary, in terms of health, in terms of thinking outside of the box. And you know the Asian culture is very rich in the martial arts and nationalism, and Bruce Lee, being Cantonese, stepped out on a limb with his martial arts teaching, gracing all kinds of people. And also stepping outside of the classical styles and going into the principles of martial arts. I think when I read his writings I can see how he wasn’t a so-called political activist in certain terms, but he activated politically, because politics is how people relate to each other so through his example he definitely helped me be more disciplined in my health and my training. Without him really ever advocating revolution as a political means, he still advocated a revolution of the spirit. And Sister Souljah, M1 just recently put me up on some of her words. Read everything that you can that can hold your interest and can challenge what you think you know cause it’s just concepts, and they all can be challenged and looked at from different points of view.
M1: I wanna mention somebody on our brand new mixtape Revoutionary but Gangsta Grillz, hosted by DJ Drama which you can download at deadprez.com, this brother named Monster, Kody – Sanyika Shakur – and there’s actually a book out called Monster about his life, he’s a young African fighter, and when I say fighter I mean warrior heart and spirit. He made a quote that’s on our latest mixtape at the end of the song “lil ghetto boy,” Donny Hathaway reprise, Dr. Dre reprise is what it is.
HipHopCanada: Thanks so much guys.
Dead Prez: Thank you!
Animal In Man
Get your free download of Revolutionary but Gangsta Grillz at DeadPrez.com.