In Defense of Dead Prez’s politics

"Revolutionary But Gangsta"

I did not expect my first real post on my new political blog to be about a hip-hop group, but Dead Prez is not just any hip-hop group. Since their debut album “Let’s Get Free” in 2000, Dead Prez has rejected the trends of mainstream hip-hop in favor of a revolutionary political message. Their slogan is “RBG” for both “Revolutionary But Gangsta” and “Red, Black, and Green” (the flag of Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist movement). Their message is similar to the beliefs that Malcolm X began to develop late in his life and also similar to the Black Panther Party’s philosophy: a combination of revolutionary black nationalism, though not black segregationist, Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism, and socialism.  Hence, Dead Prez belongs in a political blog just as much as a hip-hop blog.

The reason I decided to write this article is because I attended a Dead Prez concert last earlier in the week, which I enjoyed immensely, and afterwards I spoke to one of the members briefly, and he could not have been more friendly. Upon hearing this story, someone who is familiar with Dead Prez’s music — but perhaps not as immersed in their message as myself — said to me that he was surprised the member didn’t say “F*ck you cracka!” to me (I am “white”). I responded, in an admittedly condescending tone (I later apologized), that Dead Prez does not hate whites and they are not racist against them, and he laughed and said it was “stupid” of me to listen to them because they always talk about hating “crackas.” I admit that set me off: Malcolm X faced similar criticism even after he departed the Nation of Islam and reformed his beliefs to reject anti-white racism and segregation. Growing up as a white kid, I had an unusual fascination with Malcolm X, and I displayed it proudly, but I often had to defend Malcolm X from other kids who teased me for my interest in a supposed “anti-white racist,” which always annoyed me. I have been a fan of Dead Prez since 2000, and I often have had to defend myself for liking them for the same reason. So, as a white fan of Dead Prez’s music and message, I felt it necessary to clarify and defend Dead Prez’s political message to those who continue to believe Dead Prez is “anti-white.”

In actuality, I do not even need to explain it; Dead Prez has stated their position on the “race question” in several interviews that can easily be found online. I think the best answer I have seen is from the now defunct hip-hop website NobodySmiling.com, but an excerpt of the interview is quoted on this Assata Shakur forum. M1 states the biggest misconception about the group is:

“You know like, “They hate White people!” We don’t hate White people, I hate the oppressive system that has come to benefit more White people than anybody else in the world; it has happened in the legacy and the hands of many White people. Not that they are all responsible, but I think people need to know just because I say, “Power to the Black and Brown,” doesn’t mean I wanna take nobody else’s power away.”

M1 makes it clear that it’s not white people that he detests, it’s the power structure that places some whites at the top and has benefitted them at the expense of black and brown people, while I would add that the power structure has also exploited many poor and working class whites.

As a side note, some of the commenters on the forum in response to M1’s quote disagree and lambast whites as “devils” and their “enemies.” Comments like that, and the ideology of Afrocentricism as a whole, I believe are counterproductive: no good will come from hating one race or placing one culture above another. For true progress, people need to accept all races and cultures; stop pretending that African or European cultures are superior to the other, and begin acknowledging the influence and interactions of the many cultures of the world. Hip-hop itself is a great example of this global cultural interaction, which I will likely explore in a later post.

To return to my point, even though M1 literally states that they “don’t hate white people,” I want to explain where the belief that they are “anti-white” comes from, and also clarify and expand on what they truly hate and believe, which in many ways I sympathize with and support. Dead Prez does have some lyrics that may lead one to believe that they “hate whites” if misinterpreted and not taken in with their larger message. Here are a few examples of how someone may get the idea they’re “anti-white”:

  • From “Police State” on Let’s Get Free: “The average black male / spends a third of his life in a jail cell / because the world is controlled by the white male”
  • From “We Want Freedom” on Let’s get Free: “Yeah, I’m for Peace / But I’ll kill ya if ya f*ck with my moms or my niece / See we all want peace, but the problem is / Crackers want a bigger piece”
  • From “”Walk Like a Warrior” on Revolutionary But Gangsta: “The white man got the wealth he held back / We’re living in hell black and nigg*z can sell crack / … / Now how you ain’t gonna fight / For the white man’s laws hell naw / For the cause, because we got to get what’s ours / Gotta struggle for the motherf*ck*ng power”

These are a few examples — and there are several others — of Dead Prez referencing whites, which without truly understanding the larger political context, may sound racist. But to say that “the world is controlled by the white male” or “the white man got the wealth he held back” does not mean that literally and exclusively all white males control the world. Dead Prez is referencing the elite of society: the most wealthy who own the most land and the most resources; with many exceptions, white males are the majority of this group. White males (not all) benefited more than any other group from capitalism, the exploitation of slave labor and wage labor, and colonizing foreign lands and pillaging their resources and labor. Sure, it is a generalization to say that the world is controlled by white males, but it is not meant to be taken literal, which is the case for much music and poetry. By “white male” or “white man,” Dead Prez is referencing the capitalist power structure that has benefited white males more than females or any other race, and whites — though certainly suffering exploitation of their own — have, in the grand scheme of things, been the least exploited of all the races.

Dead Prez is aware that some blacks have also benefited from capitalism, and they ask those who have to reach back and help the community. In the song “Hit Me, Hit me,” from Turn Off the Radio: The Mixtape Vol. 1, Dead Prez rap:

Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey – hit me, hit me / Michael Jackson, Bobby, Whitney – hit me, hit me / Magic Johnson, We need about $50,000 – hit me, hit me / Dr. Huxtable help us build a hospital – hit me, hit me

Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and the others have all benefited from capitalism to become millionaires, and Dead Prez is criticizing them for not helping out the community more. It is worth noting that these black millionaires all made their money through the entertainment industry, and once they had that money, they branched out to invest in other ventures, which made them even wealthier. The entertainment industry provides the best opportunities for blacks to earn money because there continues to be discrimination in hiring practices and many blacks lack access to as good of schools and facilities as whites. Of course, there are exceptions. Perhaps I will elaborate on this point in a future post.

I do not necessarily agree with everything that Dead Prez says, but for the most part I strongly support their message. As I’ve said, they are not racist, and their overall message is exactly what I believe. They come from the perspective and tradition of black revolutionaries, which I respect. They advocate radical change to the current system, which exploits far more than it benefits, and creates a society where there is a drastic division between the rich and everyone else. The American political system is broken; capitalism has created extremely wealthy corporations, banks, and lobbies that have much more influence over the government than any voter can. No politician can be elected to office without the support of major corporations, banks, and lobbies, so what can we do — as Americans — to change the system? This is why I support Dead Prez’s politics.

“The only constant is change.”

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One comment on “In Defense of Dead Prez’s politics

  1. Pwoods1988 says:

    I’m trying to understand what you’re saying but I don’t understand why you’re defending them. I’m white and I am far from racist. Color means nothing to me but I don’t think people would be as understanding if a white rocker said the word “nigger” in a good portion of their songs. Just saying

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