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Fighting the power 

Dead Prez, like Public Enemy before it, keeps civil rights at the fore

click to enlarge The Indy refuses to take a stance on whether its - OK to pray for cowlicks to go away.
  • The Indy refuses to take a stance on whether its OK to pray for cowlicks to go away.

Dead Prez artist M-1 hardly denies that he's trying to spread a certain message with his music. Actually, he embraces this perception. After all, it's an accurate one.

And if that turns you off, he doesn't really care.

"Our music is anchored in reality and real-life struggles with oppression in our community," says M-1, whose real name is Mutulu Olugbala. "Nobody wants to live like that. Our music is a direct reflection of that. If people are gonna be offended, they're gonna have to be offended, because I'm gonna be me."

What once defined pioneers like N.W.A. and Public Enemy, who reflected the black experience through rap, now belongs to Dead Prez. The group, comprising of M-1 and his fellow emcee stic.man, is known for its politically charged lyrics. And the duo is one of the most extreme and perhaps the most credible anti-establishment rap groups left.

"We have to create revolutionary culture," M-1 says. "We know right now the culture of hip-hop is owned by the ruling class. It is not a reflection of working-class people or struggling people."

M-1 belongs to a number of black rights groups and is a local president of the Brooklyn Chapter of the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement an organization whose former president was the son of a prominent Black Panther.

His story is one a number of underprivileged kids have experienced an incarcerated mother, a life headed toward drugs, few ways to get out.

"My feet were swept under me by crack cocaine," M-1 says, referring to his mother's incarceration on drug-related charges when he was 18. "Reality is what changed [my perspective]. I was independent and it left me with a sense of responsibility."

But unlike other once-underprivileged, now-successful artists 50 Cent and Eminem come to mind M-1 remains committed to his roots.

"It is more than just about class," M-1 says. "It's about interest. It's about agenda. [50 Cent] may be from the working class, but he has ruling-class agenda. It doesn't automatically make you revolutionary even though you come from nothing."

While M-1's approach seems confrontational among the names he has called white Americans, "oppressors" is one of the tamer terms his message is positive.

"I used to think hustling was gangsta," he says. "I used to think selling crack was gangsta. I was like that. But now what's gangsta to me is fighting the system and becoming a vegetarian and lifting our people up and exploring this life."

Lyrically, Dead Prez embraces this ideal, rapping about police brutality, local control over communities and other black rights issues. M-1 and stic.man echo the messages of the like-minded politically charged rappers before them.

"Music continues to progress, and we've become part of our community," M-1 says. "The same way Snoop grew up out of N.W.A. is the same way we grew out of Public Enemy. I think that there's gotta be new boundaries."

And if that means turning some people off, Dead Prez has no apologies.

"I began to organize before I was even trying to rap," M-1 says. "Even if I was a regular guy without a label, I'd be out there organizing for my community. I'm not gonna stop just because I'm rapping, too."

scene@csindy.com

Dead Prez with Black Pegasus

The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $15; visit ticketweb.com.

  • Dead Prez, like Public Enemy before it, keeps civil rights at the fore

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