When it comes to making knowledge sound cool, dead prez has accomplished that goal on an international scale
On a surprisingly chilly night in late October, a promoter from Japan pulled together a show at one of NYC’s favorite Hip Hop hangouts, Santos Party House. Besides the fact that someone from another country wanted to do a show in a club here that can barely hold 300 people, there had to be something very distinct about the artists that were chosen to perform that made these international promoters want to travel halfway around the globe to do a show.
With the notion that “conscious” Hip Hop and “struggle” rap are synonymous, RBG pioneers dead prez haven’t been packing the large venues like they were at the height of their most prominent single “Hip Hop” from their 2000 Let’s Get Free LP, which is the theme song for the groundbreaking Dave Chappelle Show. During the new millennial surge of righteous rap, M-1 and stic.man, who were discovered by Brand Nubian‘s Lord Jamar, were two of the most sought after artists that could successfully fuse consciousness and good Hip Hop, which kept them in front of a capacity crowd with their passports stamped out. On this particular night, there was well under 100 people in the building. When asked their thoughts about the modest crowd at Santos, the crew gave answers just as practical as their music. “As long as we’ve been in the game, we’ve rocked for two people and we’ve rocked for 20,000,” says stic.man. “A lot of that is what the promotion is what their connections are with people, so we take it how it is. I’m humbled and appreciate the fact that 16 years later, somebody would come and sing all of our songs with us no matter how many folks are around. You feel me?” Mutulu Olugbala aka M-1 echoes his comrade’s insight. “Social networking ain’t good enough for our core crowd. Other than that, it’s on us to stay relevant and introduce ourselves to newer audiences. If I had promoted it, I am sure the place would have been packed.”
Some may attribute this lack of interest in positive music to the direction that Hip Hop taken, however, dead prez asserts that there are many more factors besides the creativity of the artist. According to M, “In order for people to listen to “message” music, whether righteous or not, we have to tap into where people are with the agenda to move the musical space forward. Tap into this vibration and raise it. Like chairman Fred said “speak in the language of the people.” The poised and focused stic.man gives a more definitive answer.”It’s work to be done. It’s Hip and Hop. Hip means to be current and to be aware. Hop is the upward and over movement,” he says in an instructional tone. “When you hop. you’re up and over something. This hip, current, awareness movement constantly asks us to re-create, to stay inspired, and to be relevant. I think the young of today is hungry for that and coming up with that in their own expression. We just left Ferguson and you see the youth out there is re-articulating the struggle in their own words. It’s a new day. I think the movement needs newer expression. I don’t think it needs to go back to nothing we did or nothing before that. I think it needs to be re-interpreted and relevant to right now.”
As for the current state of inner city epidemics and injustices such as the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, the duo both agree that Hip Hop still has a pivotal position within the struggle to give the youth a voice. When questioned about the impact Hip Hop culture can have on the Darren Wilson/Mike Brown case, M-1 seems optimistic of its effect. “Hip Hop can mobilize Ferguson by attaching messages of direct action; not just morale building. But that takes some political study similar to the way local rapper Tef Poe has been doing. We have to be focused and strategic to use hip hop as a tool to arm the masses.” The rapper recently turned health guru gives an abstract, yet pragmatic point of view. “Everyday you wake up, you can turn one channel and you can get a download of negativity. You can turn another channel and get an upload of positivity, so to speak. Which one is right or wrong? They’re both happening but which one are we going to focus on and what’s going to benefit us in the long run? More than anything, we need to create less enemies and more remedies. We have to look at solutions to teach ourselves and our community how to think solution based. How to think “solutionary” because we think ‘problem’ and ‘obstacle’. You know that old TV show MacGyver? MacGyver thinks whatever situation I’m in, I’m gonna get out that motherfucka! That’s optimism! That shit is a joke right now in the hood, but optimism is what allowed people to invent new ways, new ideas, and believe something new can exist.”
-Sha Be Allah(@KingPenStatus)