Dead Prez get serious ahead of NZ shows

By Chris Schulz

Dead Prez say their music helps people "escape the pains of the world". They talk to Chris Schulz.

Booty jams, weed anthems and the size of their rims. These are not topics that will come up during an interview with American rap group Dead Prez.

Instead, the Brooklyn duo - rappers M1 and Stic.Man - prefer to talk about more serious things. Like the economic crisis hitting economies around the world. Or governments' role in the plight of poor and oppressed people.

And the impact that big business has had on the American food and health industries.

Phew. They're big topics for a rap group to take on, but front man M1 - real name Mutulu Olugbala - says they're things that aren't being discussed often enough.

"Poor people are more oppressed than ever, governments have more control than they ever have over people's lives and the value of information is going up like the price of platinum and gold," he tells TimeOut.

"People are dealing with crises in the world. There needs to be an explanation, and we're not getting that.

"I think there's a place for that in our music and I think people want to hear that."

Their stance means Dead Prez are more closely related to the politically minded activism of Public Enemy than the shallow party-starting antics of hip-hop's more mainstream stars.

It's something they've been doing since 2000 with the release of their hard-hitting debut, Let's Get Free, a ground-breaking album that dealt with racism and explored links between classrooms and jails but still delivered a hit single in Hip-hop, a song later used to soundtrack comedy show Entourage.

The album is so well regarded that Kanye West claims it heavily influenced his career, and hip-hop stars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis recently invited them on stage during a Madison Square Garden performance.

As critically acclaimed as Let's Get Free was, M1 says Dead Prez's sound has evolved since then - and he admits it's not to everyone's liking.

"We've come into some criticism because there are people who are married to the original Dead Prez sound of Let's Get Free, and expected us to stay the same," he says.

"I've got news for the world: we're changing, just like the world is. We want to grow as well, we don't want to say the same things or even in the same way as we said it before. We made Let's Get Free, we're happy that we were able to make it. It became a contents page in the book of Dead Prez and we hope to fill the rest with other movements and chapters in our lives."

They took a more modern approach with Information Age, which "borrows from the styles of Little Dragon or Flying Lotus, yet on top of that we put our hardcore rap style".

M1 calls their new sound "soul sonic", with a focus on "educational" entertainment.

"It's futuristic, with synthesisers and upbeat rhythms. It's definitely a departure from the underground, boom bap sound.

"I hope everybody likes it. You have to listen to it with an open ear," he says.

Hip-hop fans can decide for themselves at two upcoming Dead Prez New Year's festival appearances: Martinborough's La De Da festival, and Mangawhai's Northern Bass.

M1 says their performances - their first since a small Auckland show in 2010 - will be "non-compromising" celebrations of "real lyricism and hardcore hip-hop".

"People come to our shows because they know the tune, It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop and because we're anti American establishment.

"We're senior MCs and we're growing musicians and we love all styles. You're going to get some old school Al Green, you're going to get some boom bap early hip-hop, you might see us taking over some of the more popular artists of today and reinterpreting those tracks.

"We're trying to capture imaginations - it's going to be a blast."

Who: Hip-hop group Dead Prez
Where: Performing at New Year's festivals La De Da and Northern Bass.
Essential listening: Let's Get Free (2000), Information Age (2012).
More info: www.ladeda.co.nz and www.northernbass.co.nz

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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