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Members include rappers M-1 and Sticman (born and raised in Tallahassee, FL). Addresses: Record company---Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022, website: http://www.sonymusic.com. Website---Dead Prez Official Website: http://www.deadprez.com.
Following in the steps of politically minded acts like Public Enemy and KRS-One, the Florida-based outfit known as Dead Prez has been crafting challenging, left wing, and border-line revolutionary hip-hop since the late 1990s. Taking inspiration from the social activism of Malcolm X, Sticman and M-1, the duo who comprise Dead Prez, have released two proper albums and two underground mix-tapes of highly political hip-hop that is heavily aligned with challenging the status quo, prompting London's Daily Telegraph to say, "Dead Prez use music not to lie about having expensive cars or girlfriends with big bottoms, but to rail against the inequities in American society. They do so with an insight and honesty that are rare in any art-form, let alone hip-hop."
Sticman and M-1 first started collaborating when they met on the campus of Florida A&M University. M-1, who was obsessing over the writings of Malcom X, infused a sense of Black pride in his newfound friend. Both began to become fascinated with politics, joining numerous community groups in Florida to do their part. Finding that they both had a strong opinion to voice and a way with rhyming, the two picked up and moved to New York City to start a rap group.
Once in New York, the group dubbed themselves Dead Prez (after "dead presidents," a slang term for money). A chance meeting with Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar led the group to sign with Loud Records. However, before the band even signed on the dotted line, they collaborated with various artists, and dropped mix tapes to secure their spot in the underground. In 1997, the group first appeared on the Loud 97 Set Up tape, with "Food, Clothes and Shelter." In 1998, M-1 and Sticman collaborated with mainstream hip-hop artist Big Punisher on his Capital Punishment release, contributing to singles "Police State With Chairman Omali" and "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop" (the latter of which hit number 43 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart in 2000). It was these two collaborations, along with a strong live show, that amassed a major buzz for the group, leading up to the release of their debut for Loud--2000's Let's Get Free.
Let's Get Free was the first introduction to Sticman and M-1's hip-hop lifestyle--one that strayed from the normal mainstream rappers subject matter. In a review for the album, Pop Matter's Dave Heaton said, "Stic and M1 see themselves as hip-hop freedom fighters following in the footsteps of the Black Panthers, always gearing up for the inevitable struggle. They're training in martial arts, living a health-conscious lifestyle, and gathering like-minded people to their side. Their enemies are the gargantuan forces of capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy, manifested in tangible form by police, schools, politicians, and giant corporations." The review went on to say that, "The extent to which Dead Prez rely on messages to carry them means your taste for their music might depend on how much you agree with what they have to say. Dead Prez have unbreakable conviction that what they're saying is true and important. For this very reason, this album is powerful enough that it can't help but spark discussions, which seems to be one of Dead Prez' goals. On the track 'Mind Sex' they express the desire to have good conversations. With Let's Get Free, they've created quite a tool for getting people to talk about timely issues." The group even proclaimed their pledge to healthy living, on "Be Healthy," a track that promoted their strict veganism (a vegan diet is free of all animal products and by-products). Let's Get Free eventually reached number 73 on the Billboard's Top 200 album chart and number 22 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart.
In 2002 and 2003, the group returned with a somewhat improper follow-up to Let's Get Free, with the two-volume mixtape project Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 1 and Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 2: Get Free or Die Tryin'. Recreating hits by Aaliyah, Black Rob, and the Notorious B.I.G., the group infused their political ideals into the melodic confines of other artists' songs. In Dead Prez's official biography, Sticman said, "We took the popular songs that we love because of the hot sound or the melody or whatever and made it relative to Black people's struggle. It means it's a lot more we could be talking about with these great hits." Indeed, some of the songs featured titles like "We Need a Revolution" and "That's War!"--song titles that would never see the light of day on the radio. On the strength of these black market releases, the group joined the Lyricists Lounge tour in 2003. They also joined up with the "Get Free or Die Tryin'" Tour, hosted by Erykah Badu.
In 2004, Dead Prez capitalized on the two tours, and released RGB: Revolutionary But Gangsta for Sony. Featuring, amongst other things, a collaboration with Jay-Z on the remix for "Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)," the record again pushed political buttons and promoted often-extreme social activism. The Daily Telegraph said, "On track after track they kick against rap clichés. Where their rivals glamorize a life lubricated by Remy and Hennessy, Dead Prez deliver a gripping rhyme about alcoholism. Where others glibly say, 'Smoke dope--it's really cool,' Dead Prez promote self-discipline and the consumption of fresh vegetables. Where elsewhere you might find 'My lifestyle is amazing,' here it's 'My life is hard, sometimes I fail, but I do the best I can.'" Stylus Magazine said, "The album is starkly minimalist, an open backdrop for Sticman and M-1's witty and world-weary rapping. 'Walk like a Warrior,' the first proper track from the album, is dark and claustrophobic; tense string samples and harsh sound effects ride a bass-heavy electro beat. 'Radio Freq' is another highlight, an Ice Cube homage that updates his volatile treatise as a string-driven, ululating attack on the limitations of corporate radio programming. Throughout the album, Dead Prez move from bitter reportage, recounting tales of poverty and desperation, to impassioned calls to action. ... This aesthetic is enhanced by the aforementioned sonics: largely bass-driven and lo-fi, as if Sticman could only afford the cheapest equipment available to create his terse beats."
In the band's official biography, Sticman explained, "We always have a new sound vision where we want to fuse certain things. We think about music that we like and certain artists from back in the days to right now whether it be Dr. Dre or Lil' Jon or Trick Daddy or Sade or Portishead. We take all these different things and we fuse elements from that and we feel like it captures what we're trying to capture." Summing up the group's aesthetic, Sticman said, "A man gotta be balanced. You can't just be about the pleasures."
by Ryan Allen
Dead Prez's Career
Group met on campus of Florida A&M University; moved to New York City, late 1990s; collaborated with rapper Big Pun on his release Capital Punishment, 1998; released debut album Let's Get Free on Loud Records, 2000; released mixtapes Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 1, 2002; and Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 2: Get Free or Die Tryin, 2003; toured with Erykah Badu, 2003; collaborated with rap superstar Jay-Z on "Hell Yeah," 2004; released Sony Records debut RGB: Revolutionary But Gangsta, 2004.
- Billboard, March 4, 2000.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 10, 2004.
- PR Newswire, February 25, 2004.
- "Dead Prez," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 3, 2005).
- Dead Prez Official Website, http://www.deadprez.com (June 3, 2005).
- "Let's Get Free," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/d/deadprez-lets.shtml (June 3, 2005).
- "RGB: Revolutionary But Gangsta," Stylus Magazine, http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=1942 (June 3, 2005).
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