Regimes may change, but for American hip hop duo Dead Prez, the message still remains the same. “Our enemy is imperialism, white power in the name of imperialism.
“The government always has an agenda. But because of a lack of information and political education, people just don’t seem to truly know what that agenda is.
“The bottom line is that big government will ensure big bombs are being dropped in countries in the interest of oil, dollars and control, and in turn the media distracts us with the soap opera-style lives of the trivial. There’s a real dumbing down of world analysis and it’s propagated by the media, the right hand of the ruling class.“
It’s 11.30am east coast time and I am speaking with one half of the duo, M-1, at his New York home. He’s been awake a while, he says, preparing for an upcoming show at the city’s Lincoln Centre.
This weekend though, he, along with fellow rapper stic.man, will come to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to perform in at the Open East Festival.
M-1 and stic.man spent their formative years in Tallahasse, Florida, where they met and started writing music together when they were 17.
They formed Dead Prez in New York City in 1996, and were renowned for their confrontational style, combined with socialist lyrics focused on both militant, political and social justice.
And it’s clear, this morning, that the subject of politics isn’t far from M-1’s mind.
“Democracy is run by dollars. Since Obama was elected it’s made us see even more clearly that this theory we’ve held fast to still has some credence,“ he says in a thick Brooklyn accent. “Why? Because I think conditions have worsened for a lot of people. The way we are being governed now treats a good sector of our people as less than human.
“I think more than ever the government’s contradictions are being exposed as to why things are the way they are.
“Obama and George Bush are just two sides of the same coin. They use media and great propaganda campaigns to pull the veil over the eyes of a lot of people.
“You’ve got a system built off of the enslavement of African people, which has birthed this economy and economies around the world.
“The same old kind of rule that has happened across the country is still happening now, it’s just being presented in a more familiar face. A face that is usually associated with the oppressed and poor.
“I saw yesterday that intellectual theorist Dr Cornel West proposed that Obama is a global Zimmerman, in that he faces innocent children down in other countries and kills them in the way George Zimmerman tracked down and killed Trayvon Martin. I thought that was an interesting theory.“
Dead Prez have never shied away from being outspoken and controversial. Inspired by self defence parties such as the Black Panther Party, they are regarded as the most politically conscious music group since Public Enemy.
From songs such as Propaganda to Know Your Enemy, their music carry a staunch political message.
“For me, rapping has always been a form of expression, a way for me to exist, to get out what I was feeling inside“, he explains. “Just like Mozart had his piano, it’s an instrument of my culture, a way for me to connect.
“You know, we live in a very disjointed society and it’s important to vocalise how you feel. Take what’s happened with Trayvon Martin. His killer walks away unpunished, yet someone like Lauryn Hill gets imprisoned for tax evasion. There’s no justice. But Dead Prez will always be on the side of the people.“
There’s no doubt that their influence is far reaching. Global superstar Kanye West recently name checked the rap duo in an interview, citing them as having had an effect on his songwriting and artistic style.
But who influences the influencers?
“Muscially, I’d say my mother has had the biggest impact on me. When I was younger she would play records by Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and I would learn these standards,“says M-1. “Then there was Parliament, Funkadelic, and Jeff Baker. But it all started with her. And I suppose hanging around with stic.man has influenced me. We’ve learnt stuff together.“
So what can we expect from their performance on Sunday? Will Dead Prez be relaying a new message to the people?
“People can expect to have a great time,“ laughs M-1. “We’ll be performing some great music in a great place.
“As for a message, well, on behalf of Dead Prez: Embrace this moment we have now. Assess which way forward is best for all of our people. I truly believe people will choose the side of freedom, so in my mind there’s hope for everyone, you know?“
Dead Prez will perform on Sunday, July 28, as part of the Open East Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.