Dead Prez: At the Junction of Hip-Hop + Activism - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Protesters in the streets of Ferguson after the announcement of the Darren Wilson case.
SourceSebastiano Tomada/Getty


Because not only does their music have flow, but they’ve been politically activist enough for 20 rappers.

By Keith Murphy

When revolutionary rap duo Dead Prez released their classic 2000 opening salvo, Let’s Get Free, the outspoken hip-hop tandem of and M-1 were lauded and criticized for their two-fisted rebuke of systematic racism in all its forms. Nearly two decades later, Dead Prez is still fighting the good fight: stic is set to release the book The Art of War: Hip-Hop and Social Activism later this year, and M just dropped the track “Sacrifice” in celebration of the prison release of Black Liberation Army member Sekou Odinga. In the polarizing aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer for killing unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, OZY reached out to the pair to hear their views on a community and city on fire.

What I think is even more constructive … is an economic strike aimed at some of the pressure points of the system.


This Tuesday, Nov. 25, interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


When you heard the announcement that the police officer was not going to be indicted in the killing of Michael Brown, what was going through your mind?

My wife called me when it was going down, and we started predicting not only what was going to happen but all of the events after. We even knew what President Obama’s speech was going to say. It was so unfortunate, but predictable.


But what happens is you still want justice. It’s this false hope. Even though I know this system is corrupt from top to bottom, you still want justice. Somehow, I’m still somewhat stunned by the callous actions towards black life.


Have you guys had the opportunity to visit Ferguson to get a sense of what the people have been going through there?

We got the chance to go to Ferguson a couple of weeks ago. The Sankofa organization, which was founded by Harry Belafonte, brought me and M-1 out there for a concert in solidarity for justice for Mike Brown. There is a real sadness and rage that such a murder can happen to one of us without any justice prevailing.


What I would like to do is give more of an empowerment to people who live in Ferguson. It shouldn’t be, “Well, the revolutionaries come into our neighborhood and try to save people.” We have to leave something in Ferguson that is revolutionary, that’s on the ground and standing. Ferguson is in a state that is as backwards as it gets. It’s as backwards as Mississippi or Alabama. That’s what you are looking at in that town. It’s still some racist shit.

Are they actually saying that it would be better to burn our oppressors’ shit down?

— M-1


Of course, much of the talk now is about the burning and looting that took place following last night’s announcement. Do you believe that rioting was a constructive reaction to such gut-punching news?


Of course I don’t think that rioting is the right reaction. But what I’m more angry with is the fact that that’s all people can say: “That’s stupid for black people to burn up their community…” Well yeah … it is. But when Wendy Williams and others start saying, “Don’t burn your own stuff,” it makes me think, are they actually saying that it would be better to burn our oppressors’ shit down? If that’s what Wendy Williams is saying, then I’m down with her.

But what I think is even more constructive … is an economic strike aimed at some of the pressure points of the system. If you focus that energy into a strategic economic strike to a major industry like Coca-Cola or the Black Friday phenomenon, that’s a real strike.


Officer Darren Wilson testified that he shot Mike Brown because he was fearful of his large presence. How can you beat such a brazen defense?

What goes through my mind is the television show called How to Get Away With Murder.  The whole notion that a teenager, no matter their size, can make a trained, armed law enforcement person feel like a little kid hugging Hulk Hogan to me says a lot about the quality of their training. If you are overwhelmed with fear of teenagers to the point where you want to kill them, then you are highly unqualified for that position.

The rap duo Dead Prez performing onstage in Sydney, Austrailia.

The rap duo Dead Prez performing onstage in Sydney, Austrailia.

Source Nic Bezzina/Corbis


There seems to be a recent injection of socially conscious artists like Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar making waves. Do you feel like Dead Prez has played a role in forging that strong connection between community activism and hip-hop?


Absolutely. We are part of that community. Killer Mike is a peer. And Kendrick is a nephew of my music. I’m a proponent of message music. Bob Dylan did it. Nina Simone did it. Bob Marley did it. Public Enemy did it. People think that if you say something you are going to end up on a list. But the truth is your ass will die whether you are on a list or not. Michael Brown wasn’t a revolutionary and yet he died at the hands of the police. I’d rather die standing up than kneeling down.

Listen to the music of Dead Prez on Spotify. Hear one of their forceful songs, “I Have a Dream, Too,” in the video below. 

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