Interview with Dead Prez

By JP Ablo

Is it true you’re revolutionaries first, MC’s second?

Stick: I don’t really like titles, period. When you say you are a revolutionary you have to always define that cause there’s a lot of muthafuckas that call themselves revolutionary. When I say it I mean that I’m putting in work to try and make the revolution happen. I’m also an MC, and there’s no reason why I can’t be a revolutionary that MC’s. It’s a part of me. I write rhymes, I enjoy it, I understand the art of it. I’m not saying I’m the best at it. It’s a talent I’m trying to develop. It’s a part of what I do.

What’s a common misconception about your music?

M1: A lot of people hear our music and they think that we’re against racism; they think racism’s the whole problem. How we see it, racism is just an idea. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what a White person thinks about me or you if they don’t have the power to enforce those ideas and beliefs. The way they enforce those beliefs is through the system of capitalism and colonialism. And that’s what we have to wage our struggle against instead of getting everybody to hold hands on some "We are the world" shit.

In some of your songs you say that you’re Africans, not African Americans. What’s the science behind that?

Stick: We Africans. We ain’t never been African American. Our ancestors, for the most part, came to this country because they were kidnapped and bought here to build an empire. We were denied any form of healthcare, food, clothes, and shelter other than the bare minimum to keep us working. When they couldn’t hold down that system any longer they said ‘We gonna make you pay for your own food, clothes, etc. so that you don’t feel like you have to rebel now’. So now we get paid to work for them, but they take the money right back with rent, bills, etc. There ain’t no point in time we became Americans. The term African American came from the middle class movement to assimilate. America is the slave master. Africa is the slave. How could we be both if they’re complete opposites?

How do you feel about all these rappers bigging up the red white and blue after 9/11?

Stick: Brothers need to get hip to what this system is about. How you gonna tell me you ain’t with the police when the US is the world police. Like my man Snoop. I love Snoop, I love Snoop’s music, I love his hood vibe. He inspires me, and even though some people got negative shit to say about Snoop I still bump his shit, and I support him. I got a lot of respect for that brother, but when I went to see him perform in New York this brother was on stage with these red, white and blue lights and had a moment of silence for America. Then he took this Eastsidaz song where they say "I love it" and was referring to the US flag. That shit broke my heart. And I ain’t saying this to attack Snoop. I’m saying this so that if he reads this, hopefully he’ll think about it and say, "I didn’t know my people cared." Cause your people do give a fuck, dog. We’re looking for you to be like "Fuck the police, fuck the government." What the fuck have they done for you except put you on trail for murder and fucked with your life since birth? The US created the conditions that got us hollering gangsta and all that shit. And we gonna support that?

M1: What gets me is all these rappers say they don’t deal with politics, and when Amadou Diallo was shot by the police for no reason, when Abner Louima was raped in the precinct bathroom by several officers, they wouldn’t take any kind of stand. But when the 9/11 shit happened they were on TV, congratulating Mayor Giulliani and bigging up the police and rockin’ NYPD hats and shit. Before 9/11 if you asked any of these people why they don’t talk about certain things they’d be like "I’m not political. I just wanna make people party." Now that it’s popular and not challenging the status quo, they all for it.

What were your initial reactions when you heard about Loud Records folding?

Stick: I was like first of all these muthafuckas are fuckin up again. They already had to switch from BMG when Let’s Get Free was coming out. That made the album get pushed back and come out mad late. Then with Walk Like a Warrior, we almost finished with it and they lose their deal again. I was like these muthafuckas don’t know what they doing. And I’m not talking about the everyday workers at Loud. I’m talking bout Massa Steve (Rifkind) and them. So I felt like we gotta get away from this shit. Every time we getting ready to come out we gotta deal with their slack-ass shit.

M1: Then we started hearing how we gonna get shipped off to different plantations and shit. So we had to drop in on our lawyer to make sure we have an advantageous position no matter the outcome.

So how’s that working out?

Stick: It’s going good now. Columbia, they talking bout hollering. See, a lot of naïve people be like "Why don’t y’all just put your shit out independently?" It’s not that simple. It’s like "Why didn’t African people that were enslaved just be independent?" We need certain things. At the same time you could be a slave that’s in the house telling on people or you could be a slave in the fields stealing machetes and hoes and planning your strike.

Have you felt pressure to tone down your anti-government message since 9/11?

M1: We can’t. Just cause the shit’s unpopular now we can’t ease up. Especially now, we gotta be riders. Now’s when you separate the real from the rest.

So how do you feel about all these publications that claim to be "unbiased" and "for the people," but yet only seem to print things praising the power structure?

M1: If any publication, from the high to the low, small to the large, wants to truly be on the side of the people it has to be conscious of itself. When you’re telling a story you’re explaining something from a certain point of view with a certain people’s interest in mind, whether you’re conscious of it or not. For a publication to really make an impact and be what they claim to be, the voice of the Hip Hop Nation, etc. etc., they have to consciously say "These are our politics." They have to be like "We not for these things, we for these things. In our writing and stories and points of view, this is how we do it."

Stick: A lot of people will tell you that that’s biased journalism. They’ll say that you have to be neutral. But the Post ain’t neutral. The Daily News ain’t neutral. None of the bourgeois press is neutral. They’ll make you think it’s neutral because it’s standard, it’s what you’ve been hearing all your life. But it’s not neutral. The press says "Crime is up, we need more police." Everyone where we live at though is like "No we don’t we need more jobs, more funding." You see, there’s always bias whenever you communicate because it’s coming from a certain perspective. The question is though, "Is your bias for the good or for the status quo bullshit?"

What’s your new album called?

M1: The album’s called Walk Like A Warrior. A lot niggas talk like warriors, but can you walk like warriors? That’s the sentiment behind it. In a lot of circles, when you putting out political information you see a lot of regurgitating. I think we have a deficit of action. We have a lot of good plans, a lot of ideas, theories, a lot of things that need to be tried so that we can see the value of them. But you rarely see implementations.

Stick: With Let’s Get Free it was like a political education in the sense of information. This album is like the application of information. It’s more about how we gonna get power, how we gonna defend ourselves, how we gonna secure ourselves. It’s like if "they schools can’t teach us shit" (the hook for one of the songs on Let’s Get Free) then how are we gonna learn. That was the running theme in Walk Like a Warrior, the How To of the mission. But I don’t wanna isolate Let’s Get Free like it wasn’t about action and I don’t wanna isolate Walk Like a Warrior like it’s the answer to everything.

This question is for Stick. I heard you stopped smoking weed and drinking. Care to elaborate?

Yeah. Just like any time a person’s been an addict to something, it’s a daily struggle. I’ve stopped smoking weed for a week, two weeks, you know, different periods of time and then started smoking weed again. Now I haven’t smoked since November.

Why did yo stop?

Health. Definitely health. But more than anything though, when you smoke and you’re high you’re lacking security. I’m striving to sharpen my warrior potential,so certain things I had to discipline myself away from. I figured why not start now? Another thing with smoking is that my son would be home while I’m in the studio or I’m training at my [self defense] class. When I come home and getting ready to spend time with him, I’d be lighting up a joint when all my work is done. But I noticed on certain days he’d be looking at me like "What’re you doing?" I want my son to know his parents train, but he’s not seeing that. He ain’t going to the studio or to my class. All he’s seeing is "Pops smokes." Something inside me said "You’re really playing yourself being high all the time, knowing what you’re up against out here." And trust me, it’s a struggle. I’d love to be high right now. It’s summer time; go outside and smoke a nice little joint. But…I’m just hoping I can be disciplined and stay focused.