Profile: Dead Prez

Political hip-hop duo Dead Prez has challenged the establishment with confrontational anthems about pan-Africanism and the education system in the U.S. Now, and M-1 are setting their sights on the world’s environmental crisis, helping to raise awareness in the black community with inspiring initiatives.

by Nate Santos
Photography by Chad Griffith

Since the first spins of their iconic debut single “Hip-Hop,” Dead Prez (aka and M-1) has aligned with the most respected caliber of militant-minded spitters. The pair, known for torching American currency on stage during wild performances, have stayed loyal to the game for over a decade. Add to their list of consciousness and causes, the duo has been on the eco-friendly grind, helping to educate others on topics like urban farming and how to green your own body. YRB politicked with the Brooklyn rap veterans about their upcoming LP, big label deals, the legacy of their fallen lyrical comrade and rap legend Big Pun and the kind of “green” that goes beyond the Benjamins.

YRB: The world has witnessed plenty of social ills since your last studio album. With a reputation for being outspoken in your music, what topics are being covered on your forthcoming album?
We’ve been 12 years doin’ this so we don’t want to repeat ourselves. We’ve got the same core message but with Stephen [Marley] being involved we’ve got our favorite roots influences, reggae, dancehall aspects incorporated. We was influenced by Damian [Marley] and Nas on Distant Relatives. Being able to work with the team that made that happen is bringing out our swords. We’re still in the embryonic stages so I don’t wanna speak too much on the direction [of the album]. India.Arie is on deck, we’ve been building with Andre 3000 [and] Damian, but it’s so new that by the time we get the juices rollin’ who knows. We gon’ give you what we call the “RBG,” the Rude Boy Garvey.

YRB: Rumors have circulated about Jay-Z looking to sign Dead Prez to Roc Nation, which you turned down. Why didn’t you pursue that option, and why is it so important to you to remain independent?
We been getting emails about this, Roc and whatever. I don’t know where people get this stuff from. The reality is, we’re havin’ meetings with Roc and other companies to make the best decision movin’ forward. Independence is not a resistance to partnership but a way of life, meaning that we’re “get up and do it ourselves” artists. We’re not artists looking for a handout to make us superstars. But recognizing, as The Art of War says, teamwork and strategy, these are key principals in being effective. So, I wouldn’t want a rumor out there sayin’ that we’re against having a creative partnership with anybody just so long as the business allows us to reach our goal without compromising who we are.

YRB: What are some of the green projects that you’re currently involved in?
One of the main initiatives we do is called “Red Black and Going Green: The Environmental Movement,” a community conversation with the people to learn innovative things that others are doing, like urban farming. It also exposes environmental racism – how in some places poor people live in toxic dump areas and the contamination of the food supply through the corporations trying to genetically modify everything. The RBG Fit Club is a unique way that I’ve been striving to build a campaign around the greening of your own body. You can’t see the body that you live on, [Earth], and not see the body that you live in. Both require a green and sustainable approach, that being your diet, water intake, regular exercise, meditation and consistency in doing that.
M-1: Also, human-powered events such as people on bikes generating the electricity for a concert, which we’ve done numerous times, or participating in concerts that elevate the issues about where our food is grown and how organic it is. We’re attaching ourselves to organizations, pushing forward those agendas so that it reaches the black and brown community who can really relate to it and need it even more.

YRB: Is it hard to be green in the hood as opposed to middle-class or upscale neighborhoods?
Not at all. Check out It’s a hood movement for growing organic vegetables in your backyard. It’s not just an idea on paper; it’s something that my family supports. It’s a teaching program as well as a store where you can buy food. It teaches how to identify what’s really organic and why pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are a problem in our community. It’s all about “cheap,” and often people don’t really care about the process that makes it cheap and our health suffers. That’s definitely a prime example of how we can do for ourselves instead of just waiting on what the government’s gonna do.
M-1: It’s definitely not hard for the hood to participate. The idea of “green” has been black way before the government or white processes were in place. We really do save our jars and our glasses. I’ve been drinkin’ out of Mason jars since I was a lil’ kid. These are things that the government can hand out a list for and make you socially responsible, but we have been reusing in a way that has everything to do with economics as with the foresight that it would be good for our community. There are so many hood initiatives that black people are involved in that structure themselves around these policies that money is trickling out of the government. There’s an organization called “Greening the ‘Hood,” which started in Harlem and is now a national program. I’ve been participating in national hood programs that do this kind of work all the while. There are even ones that go around and collect recyclable and reusable products and help the kids in the community. It’s poppin’ as far as ideas about hood “green” growth. It ain’t chic or nothin’ – it’s just something that’s happening in the hood.

YRB: Do you have some theories as to how those living in the hood could be better motivated to practice eco-friendly habits?
People have to be shown why it’s important, basic things that hit your life and you’re like, ‘That’s gonna’ kill me or make me sick if I do that.’ I think education and raising the consciousness on why green is important to us and why it’s not just a white issue [are important]. I think it’s key to always talk about sustainability and include your body. If you care enough about the quality of your life, then that can extend to the quality of the living organism around you.
M-1: The thing that’s gonna anchor the concept of green in our community is money. At the end of the day, what it boils down to is that the green is the money. We’re gonna have to create opportunities and resources that allow people to get involved. Then culture, which is America’s biggest export, is what’s gonna help those ideas get and stay inside the hood.

YRB: The 11th anniversary of Big Pun’s death just passed. Since you were label mates on Loud Records and appeared on his debut, Capital Punishment, can you share how you view Pun’s legacy as it stands today?
He was an inspiration for new lyricists to come, and as long as we keep playing his music I think he’ll still be relevant. To keep it all the way real, his health cut his life short. I think it’s important to not just glorify his lyricism, but to also take the opportunity as hip-hoppers to acknowledge that we need to take accountability in terms of our lifestyle. They predict by 2025 that obesity will be the number one health problem. Big Pun was a martyr, if I can say, as it relates to the standard American diet. We can use his reality to wake us up that much more.
M-1: Pun was probably one of the greatest lyricists and studier of lyricists that I ever met. In the moment of Jay-Z, DMX, Canibus, Black Thought, Prodigy, whoever was doin’ it, he studied they whole style and could mimic it. The same way some of these dudes study grades of cocaine or engines on a Maybach, this dude was definitely the lyricists’ lyricist. I don’t think he ever gets enough credit for what he’s done. He would leave you where you couldn’t really rap after him. What today is considered mainstream pop/R&B, he helped to usher that in with his mainstream odes to real Spanish culture, which he was able to do with people like Jennifer Lopez. Before reggaeton even came on the set he was doin’ songs with Buju Banton. He was on the forefront of that culture. There’s a style of hardcore rhyming that can even be attributed to Pun. So I just want people to know, this is where to connect the legacy of Pun.

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