I used to really bang dead prez songs, especially their RBG: revolutionary but gangsta tapes. But as I got older, I realized that there’s a serious disconnect between what they profess to be (conscious rappers, whatever that means) and what they put on wax (half-examined garbage and conspiracy theories). I have the same problem with Immortal Technique, too. It’s like these dudes fused bland, freshman idealism with like… obnoxiously libertarian-infused realpolitik and came up with revolutionary rap. Even worse, they stay complaining about the more pop rappers, like what they do is somehow more valid than somebody rhyming about their cars or whatever.
Case in point: “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System).” What I like about this song is that it’s probably the purest example of how high school dead prez’s philosophy is. The song’s a banger, don’t get me wrong, but it’s stone stupid. The title makes it seem like it’s all about pimping the system because you’re broke, turning the man’s methods against him, but in terms of actual content, it’s about robbing a pizza delivery man, pulling a credit card scheme so that you can buy fancy stuff, pulling a different scheme so you can get food stamps (???), and robbing whatever store you work at because “doing dirt is a part of living.”
I hate the first verse. I can’t even tell you how much I loathe it. Their big idea of getting a break from poverty is robbing a pizza delivery man. Now, I dunno if y’all have met any pizza deliverymen, but these cats are not the 1%. Not even close. They’re regular people working a crappy job where people regularly try to cheat them out of cash and short them on tips. A pizza delivery guy is a dude that’s sitting exactly one rung higher on the ladder than the characters in the song.
Robbing that guy is a sick idea. First, son is going to have sixty bucks on him, max, plus maybe three pizzas. Good haul, dunny. Second, it’s poisonous and stupid to attack someone who’s basically on the same level as you. If you’re going to rob anyone, you need to be running up in a rich man’s house or pulling Bernie Madoff into a dark alley or putting a gun to a celebrity’s back or something, not robbing somebody who makes six bucks an hour plus tips. The rest of the song isn’t much better. The credit card scam isn’t a way to escape poverty so much as to buy fly clothes and ruin your friend’s credit while he ruins yours. How is that pimping the system?
dead prez has got a few genuine bangers. “Hip-Hop” and “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” still go (trivia: Kanye to the West produced the latter). “The Pistol” is pretty okay, and that last verse is pleasantly cold. But a lot of their stuff, stuff like “Mind Sex” and every time they talk about running up on white folks just because and whatever… it’s good agitprop, but it isn’t good philosophy. It’s not workable. It’s not real. It’s terrible, in fact, and for it to be positioned like something to emulate, as something that’s more real and important than Scarface serving cocaine to the geeks is just… dishonest. At least these dudes pushing jiggy or crack raps have a coherent position. “I like money more than I like my fellow man.” dead prez has a chaotic assortment of overcompensatingly militant Black nationalist rhetoric, and precious little of it is applicable to your life.
I mean, look at the video for “Hell Yeah.” You rob a white family, steal their video camera, and throw a party? What part of the game is that? That’s revolutionary? That’s J Edgar Hoover’s wet dream.
Every time somebody is like “Do you know dead prez????” I basically react the same way I do when someone asks about Ron Paul/Ayn Rand/Johnen Vasquez/Charles Bukowski/MIA. I know that I’m in for a painful conversation that’ll probably be about black helicopters and how school exists to brainwash you into being a robot and la-di-da. And I mean, I went out and got “uhuru” tattooed on my actual body. I’m down for the cause or whatever, but having a cause or claiming to be a socialist or vegan or feminist or whatever is no replacement for actually having ideas that can be applied to real life and have a possibility of causing change.
“Rob a white family, throw a party” isn’t going to cause any change I want a part of. “Stick up a pizza delivery man to feed your folks” is a shortsighted and stupid plan. And dead prez’s music is rife with this stuff. It gets to the point where my eyes are rolling while my head is nodding. It’s frustrating.
I think it’s awful that Jay-Z, of all people, got on the remix to “Hell Yeah” and had more compelling content than these conscious rappers, when all he was doing was biting The Eminem show-era Eminem. Ice Cube’s “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” is more sound and honest than any dead prez song you care to name: