Stic and M1, who make up the duo Dead Prez, see themselves as hip-hop freedom fighters following in the footsteps of the Black Panthers, always gearing up for the inevitable struggle. They’re training in martial arts, living a health-conscious lifestyle, and gathering like-minded people to their side. Their enemies are the gargantuan forces of capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy, manifested in tangible form by police, schools, politicians, and giant corporations. Dead Prez are looking for a few good revolutionaries, and their debut Let’s Get Free is the invitation for you to join the team.
Dead Prez aggressively and articulately attack the forces that contribute to inequality in modern society. While there are current hip-hop groups who are just as politically motivated, I can’t think of another act in the hip-hop game right now who is quite as outspokenly Afrocentric. They see themselves as Africans stranded in a land where they don’t belong, living in a thoroughly unequal society where the deck is consistently stacked against them. Let’s Get Free recalls the day when strongly Afrocentric groups like X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Brand Nubian not only existed, but were successful. This is a relief for those of us who miss that side of hip-hop, who understand Dead Prez’ concern that capitalism is invading music to too great an extent. A key difference between Dead Prez and the Afrocentric groups of the past is that they have more concrete goals and plans; they’re calling for community building and grassroots activism. They also give their message a deeper layer by focusing on the economic roots of injustice instead of just complaining about the surface-level problems.
Dead Prez don’t pull punches; these are two MC’s who deliver their message as forcefully as possible. The big shame here is that they have such a dull musical backdrop for such bold statements. The album’s beats and musical flourishes have nothing distinct or interesting about them whatsoever. Maybe this is intentional; all the attention is drawn to their voices, since there’s hardly anything else of interest to listen to. But even their rhyming skills aren’t all that exciting. They make their points, yes, but it’s all direct communication. There are no rhymes delivered in a way that makes your jaw drop or makes you want to rewind and catch that last verse again.
As a means of delivering a message, Let’s Get Free is effective. The extent to which Dead Prez rely on messages to carry them means your taste for their music might depend on how much you agree with what they have to say. Dead Prez have unbreakable conviction that what they’re saying is true and important. For this very reason, this album is powerful enough that it can’t help but spark discussions, which seems to be one of Dead Prez’ goals. On the track “Mind Sex” they express the desire to have good conversations. With Let’s Get Free, they’ve created quite a tool for getting people to talk about timely issues.