Dead Prez Bring Politics to the Party
Jazz Café, 29th October 2014
With Dead Prez moments away from entering the stage, DJ MikeFlo cleansed the audience’s pallet with Damian Marley’s sombre Book of Life mixing into the triumphant Max Romeo piece ‘Chase the Devil’, known now for the ‘Lucifer, Son of the Morning’ sample. Martin Luther King’s ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud Speech’ blared around the Jazz Café soundsystem crescendoing into the thundering 808 bass of ‘Malcolm, Garvey, Huey.’ Trap Music has never been this radical.
Flying straight into the struggling hustler’s opus ‘Hell Yeah’ Stic.Man and M1 ran the stage harder than the former’s gym workouts for the next ninety minutes, blasting through their discography of street mixtapes and major label studio albums. The duo’s most honoured number ‘Hip-Hop,’ nearly fifteen years after release still had everybody bouncing in unison, bass threatening to tear the venue from its foundations.
There’s a refreshing ubiquity to Dead Prez’s message of raging against colonialism, oppression and racism. And whilst the live shows aren’t the place to forward macro solutions, their every-day self-help goals such as healthy eating, exercise, martial arts, reading and training offer a stepped plan out of subjugation. Stic.Man’s ode to gym work ’50 in a Clip’ masterfully performed over ‘Pound Cake Instrumental’ sets the RBG tao apart from the countless hordes of insignificant sound-alikes who have flogged the Drake beat to death. A happy-go-lucky, cheery camp-fire sing-a-long is set to ‘Discipline’ where the chorus proudly declared ‘Discipline makes things easier, organize your life.’ Preceding this song was the cut-short sapiosexual anthem ‘Mind Sex’, hinting that Dead Prez value regimen above carnal pursuits in their hierarchy of needs.
Around 60% of the London crowd could relate to Stic.Man’s ‘Runaway Slave’ sentiments of putting blades to slavemaster’s throats. Dead Prez made no apology for the song’s intended audience. However, in a thinly veiled message to the white participants in the crowd, an inclusive call-to-action against the oppressive structures of capitalism encouraged all to know their role, and carry it out.
In less capable mic clutches, the didacticism would grow over-bearing but the emcees’ stage presence, sincerity and musicality amasses into a finely orchestrated hip-hop symphony. Utilizing Hip-Hop tropes such as call-and-responses are a staple for getting any crowd hyped up but even calls to: ‘ladies make some noise!’ are punctuated by shout-outs to ‘Auntie Assata Shakur.’
No holds barred lyrics slamming white supremacy (‘Telling me white man lies, straight bullshit’, ‘Capitalism was invented by the white boys’) and an appreciation and experience of the Black person in poverty struggle resonates with Black people, which made this a rare Black majority show in London. It’s a resonation these days you wouldn’t necessarily even see at a Public Enemy show in the capital. But Dead Prez’s personable honest warmth and hospitability makes their message palatable to all others too. A love for fellowship, growth and community makes their ‘People Army’ inspired by the manifesto of keeping it ‘Revolutionary But Gangsta.’ So rather than rhetoric ready conscious rappers who only wear the outfit of militancy, Dead Prez at their core are regular guys, who make diverse music with controlled anger and optimism, rock killer shows and live out their ‘Bigger than Hip-Hop’ mentality daily. And THAT is what makes them so, so Hip-Hop.
‘Rockstar lifestyle ain’t gonna make it, too many black men locked in cages. If I get wasted and you get wasted, what we gon’ do by the next generation.’
Review by Perry Dominoes