In 1989, some warned that hip-hop would soon be overcome by its own growing commercialism and that rappers' integrity would be eaten alive. In 1999, some bemoaned that exact development. The worst, they said, had come to pass.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the state of the genre. Was rap too violent? Too street? Not street enough? Not real enough? Too real?
It's enough to make your head spin, but for rappers M-1 and Stic-Man of Dead Prez, the state of the industry was cause for inspiration, not desparation. In 2000, they released Let's Get Free, a hard-banging debut album that embraced every shred of proud hip-hop history while also advocating a politically militant, anti-commercial future for the music (and for the people).
"Hip-Hop" (also known by the title of its Kanye West-remixed alternate version, "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop") served up revolutionary lyrics over a danceable beat while calling on fans to demand something more from their music than the larger-than-life flossiness usually found in rap videos:
Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?
A dream or some substance?
A Beemer, a necklace, or freedom?
|Year||1999 (Single), 2000 (Album)|
|Writer(s)||M-1 (Mutulu Olugbala/Lavon Alford), stic.man (Clayton Gavin), V. Williams, A. Mair|
|Musician(s)||Dead Prez (vocals), Hedrush (drum programming), Doug Wilson (mixing)|
|Learn to play||Tablature|
|Album||Let's Get Free|
Big Daddy Kane
Brand Nubian and Lord Jamar
M.K. Asante, It's Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation (2008)
A long lament about the loss of hip-hop identity to corporate interests that proposes some hopeful alternatives.
Yvonne Bynoe, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-Hop Culture (2004)
A passionate argument for the political use of hip-hop.
Jeff Chang, Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (2005)
Chang's hopeful and complex take on hip-hop history won the American Book Award.
Let's Get Free (2000)
Their first album was also their most commercially successful.
Turn Off the Radio Volume 4: Revolutionary But Gangsta (2010)
The fourth in a series of mixtapes was temporarily available on the Dead Prez site for free.
Dead Prez Portrait, 2010
Stic.man and M1 pose for the camera.
Dead Prez Logo
The white lines are actually a symbol from the Chinese I-Ching; the three stripes are from the RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta album cover.
Let's Get Free Cover Art
The controversial album cover features South-African youth bearing arms and celebrating an anti-apartheid victory.
Dead Prez Flier
Dead Prez gave a talk on "going green" in 2009—just one of many talks and events they've done as a band.
Dead Prez: It's Bigger than Hip-Hop (2006)
This concert documentary got Dead Prez on TV. They were happy when they realized that the revolution would be televised.
"Hip-Hop" Lyrics on Genius
Here's a thorough breakdown of the lyrics to "Hip-Hop."
"Hip-Hop" Music Video
Complete with political slogans.