Hip-hop is a cultural movement that began among urban African-American youth in New York and has since spread around the world. Emerging from a blend of African and West Indian vibes in the late 1960s, the four main elements of hip-hop are MCing, DJing, graffiti art and breakdancing. Some consider beatboxing the fifth element of the movement; others might add political activism as an important facet of hip-hop. The term has since come to be a synonym for hip-hop music and rap to mainstream audiences, defining it as a way of life.
However, many lyrical artists such as Dead Prez have surpassed modern stereotypes by ringing an alarm when people seem to start forgetting the purpose behind this beautiful culture. “Our mission is to teach, inspire and educate, because we need to speak the truth and respect the culture that has given birth to us,”says Stic of Dead Prez, reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who died for freedom of speech.
To celebrate the late activist’s birthday, The District, located in downtown Miami, launched its Mellow Mondays with a live poetry session hosted by South Florida favorites such as Asia, Marcus Blake, Rachel Finley and Will da Real One, who stay faithful to the movement by blessing many stages with their powerful lyrics. The setting was sexy and the crowd real, a unified black, brown and gold audience, carrying their ancestries in their locks, honest smiles or blue eyes. A full house was waiting for the feature poets, M-1, who also goes by the name Mutulu Olugbala, and Stic of Dead Prez, to bring the unpredictable, yet incredible, words that have characterized them as militant artists of the hip-hop industry.
“I had no idea where our music was going when we first started. We make moves, we work hard, and we realize that we are headed to the right direction,” says M-1 when asked about the path the group is taking in the near future. From its first LP, Let’s Get Free, to its latest RBG, with the hit single “Hell Yeah (Pimp The System)” featuring Jay-Z, the group’s authentic creation is timeless and constantly faithful to the cultural movement.
One new component that can be heard throughout the recent album is the focus to the ‘hood and street knowledge. “I would like to reach out to our communities a little bit more, and introduce them to housing, health care and education by using this music as a vehicle-a vessel-launching our revolutionary program,” says M-1, while Stic adds, “We need to go door-to-door, hand-in-hand, to our ‘hood, and make sure that people are aware of the poor conditions they live in.” Such powerful statements reflect the group’s mission to teach, inspire and educate by using the most authoritative weapon of all, the mic.
Although Dead Prez’s style may be considered riot music to some, its beats are political, flavorfully spiced with jungle and drum and bass rhythms that can’t easily be categorized by one sound or production style. The music mixes elements of soul, blues, reggae, rock and more in natural, flowing ways while remaining complicated, challenging, terse and totally funky. The group’s lyrical content may seem stronger than the final musical product, but M-1 says that “Poetry and music are all part of this culture; they can’t be separated.” In effect, moral values and integrity are omnipresent in Dead Prez’s poetry, but are also simply coated with a dose of reality that is a tad bit excessive for the everyday audience, distracted by commercial pop and propaganda. That reality is what makes its music so close to hip-hop’s cultural movement, fitted to whoever can play the part, no matter what their background is. Hip-hop is in our soul and its content is firing us with ammunition to share our knowledge with each other.
Nathalie Guillaume can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.