Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr. speaks to M-1 and Stic.man, the duo behind the politically charged rap group Dead Prez, and discusses their opinions on revolution, social consciousness and the on-going war in Iraq.
When you first started out was it a conscious decision to take your music in this direction, or were you activists using music as a vehicle to communicate with the people?
STIC.MAN: I wanted to go into the US army. When I was a little nigger, I wanted to be a soldier. I was sixteen years old and I was just on that. It wasn’t until my school teacher gave me this opportunity to be in the Black History Month assembly and she gave me these books and was like, yo, I’ll let you say some raps if you say some things about Black history. And long story short, the rhyme I ended up saying, I got kicked out of school for it. The NAACP, the police, my parents all ended up coming to the school. It was a big deal in our community and I had never seen the church stand up for the kids’ education. I had never seen niggers like winos in my family and shit, rise on the system. So, that was my whole eyes open to our community’s struggles, as well as the power of hip hop in that struggle. I would go to the Bronx and everybody who was interested and wanted to know where all of this information came from, I would say this is it. I would bring out political education from Huey Newton and Malcolm X and all the brothers, George Jackson, Assata Shakur, and we would read from it and we would discuss what it would take. Because the people who were attracted to it weren’t just revolutionaries; it was like people who were doing everything, hustling, you know, young black men and women hustling, trying to get by every day and at the same time, it was like, what we were talking about was helping people kinda figure it out even more, cos we was tryin to figure it out even more.
A lot of musicians say one thing and then live another way. Do you live by your principles?
STIC.MAN: What you hear in the music comes from personal experience. It’s definitely not just theory. Politically, I am what I stand for. This is not just rap music for me.
Would you define yourselves as socialists?
STIC.MAN: If socialism means that the people who do the work can have a better outcome, then hey.
Looking at what’s happening in Latin America with Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, do you support their revolutionary reforms of land redistribution and nationalisation?
STIC.MAN: I ain’t trying to separate myself from Socialists. I think for the most part, all the work I’ve done seen throughout history and in the present is from the people. You know, people who say they’re socialists. I unite with their programme, but for me it’s the label itself that I’m not trying to be a part of.
M-1: With our political minds, it pumped us to go to Venezuela to link up with Chavez and see what’s cracking down there and to understand from top to bottom what’s going on, instead of sitting at home and hearing about it. What we do recognise is that the system all around the world that’s got people oppressed is imperialism. We know how that was formed, you know, the foundations of that being the enslavement of Africa and all its resources, which led to England having what it has. The same with Portugal, Spain and America; all of it come from that, that we do know. We gonna have to stand up and put the world in the right order. In order for us to do that I think we got to do the opposite of capitalism, some people have called it socialism.
What do you think about big commercial rappers like 50 Cent and do you think Hip Hop has gone too far with the bling bling culture?
STIC.MAN: Man, I’m so happy that that dude is successful. Any of our brothers and sisters that can make a living with his music, with his culture, niggers got the right to say what the fuck they feel. Not everybody’s been through political education. 50 Cent came from where 50 Cent came from and that’s where it started. I feel that his son and his family and the people who he’s responsible for, really appreciate where he came from and what he’s able to do now. I think politically his whole shit is backwards, but the media makes for a war against people, you know what I’m saying? I’ve got much more shit in common with 50 Cent than I got with Cosby. When he talk about he sells crack, I can’t fuck with that. My family been through all that and many of our families. If you want rappers to be conscious then the community’s got to be conscious, because that’s where the rappers come from. Don’t get me wrong, rappers definitely got a responsibility because we are speaking for our communities even when we’re not conscious of that, so I ain’t tryin’ to say we don’t hold niggers accountable. But at the end of the day we could scream at rappers all day long, but when you touch the rapper on where he went to school at, or where his brother in jail at, or whatever, then you know the influences.
To the people out there who listen to Dead Prez and some of them who may find the use of the term ‘nigger’ offensive, what would you say?
STIC.MAN: We will never try to tell people that saying the word ‘nigger’ is OK. If the word ‘nigger’ offends you, then you should not say it. 2Pac told me ‘nigger’ means: “Never, Ignorant, Getting, Goals, Accomplished.” But I’m not here to argue or say that we need to teach our youth to say ‘nigger.’ If we get it out of our system, shit, let’s get it out of mine too. But best believe I’m not just stupidly saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger.’ I’m saying that there’s a understanding to me: “Never, Ignorant, Getting, Goals, Accomplished.” So, you know what I mean, it’s just slang, it’s just speaking the language of the people, you know what I mean?
When socially conscious rap becomes marketable and other rappers jump on the bandwagon, you then get all these positive messages and then where do you go from there? Is there a real strategy rather than just the rhetoric?
STIC.MAN: My goal is to demonstrate as much as I can do, in terms of the ownership of my business, the ownership of my talent, the ownership of my expression. I’ve got to get control of that, or else it’s like, what the fuck am I talking about when I’m punching clock? I think that’s the fight, because the more shit our community owns is the more shit we got to fight with, the more it’s going to be relevant because you have something you are responsible for. These are consciousness building things; responsibility builds consciousness. So, it’s not just, ‘read this book and you’re a soldier.’ Nigger, no, it’s, ‘take this responsibility’ and I’m saying that with all humility. We gotta move from so much protest and get more pro-active. I think that really is the solution in a nutshell. What we have to do is be proactive, creative, new solutions, new institutions. To be able to make your own opportunity, because we want to get to a point where as a people we are not asking for opportunity.
Do you have an opinion about the war in Iraq?
M1: It’s modern day imperialism. It’s the same as the war in Vietnam or the same as what happened in Panama, the same as the aggression that’s happening against Venezuela with the fake coup that they tried to pull on Chavez. It’s all part of the advancement of imperialism and the close on what they believe is the final stages of unified global imperialism. So that’s what Iraq’s about, the continuation of the oppression of the people for the benefit of the few.
STIC.MAN: I wanna say to the people of Iraq, “KEEP FIGHTING!” because their resistance and their ability to resist for even this long is an inspiration. Just the spirit of the people that says, “We have a right to live our own way of life and on our fucking land, without you falsely coming in here saying you are trying to make it all fair for everybody, but really what you trying to get is an advantaged position on our oil and on our resources.” I’m inspired when I see that Bush can’t come home and say, “We conquered the spirit of that land.”
So what about the war on terror?
STIC.MAN: It’s a joke. There ain’t no war. It’s a war on us; it’s a war on justice. It’s a military intelligence strategy, to create fear and exploit people’s fears, to go in and do bloody work in the name of money and oil.
Some people would say your remarks are treasonous. Are you not afraid of the remarks you make?
STIC.MAN: FUCK BUSH!
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