“Blood of a panther.
Why is the question, what is the answer?
Got a suggestion? Here’s an example.” ~ Nas “Why? (remix)”
“I’m driving in the fuckin’ tundra; the winds are whipping crazily. I’m about to hit Sioux Falls and we are in a Winnebago swerving through the lanes. Can’t barely stay on the highway.” It seems fitting that these are the first words I hear from Mutulu Olugbala, a.k.a. M-1 of Dead Prez, as he answers the phone for our interview. For years it seems as though his critics have been trying to throw him off the road.
From the use of the word “crackers” in their lyrics to an oratory spirit reminiscent of Mumia and Marx, M-1 and comrade Stic.man have been labeled as “controversial” ever since their landmark debut, Let’s Get Free, was released in 2000. Our conversation had to be delayed a week because M-1 lost his voice from extensive touring (with Ghostface, through April 20) and promoting his new solo album, Confidential, but even a cold couldn’t silence the one-time president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement on his mission to aid in the resurgence of political action in the black community.
I quickly learned that M-1 never holds his tongue when praising or criticizing, whether it be in his commendation of men such as Cornel West, whom he calls “the backbone of the black intelligence the mind squad for our movement,” or his not-so positive assessment of U.S. Senator Barack Obama, whom he describes as having “yet to be seen as a force to the African-American community” because of his “conservative politics” and “image” in the media, which caused M-1 to wonder “if these are [positive] things for our people.”
These are the kinds of sentiments that made the Black Panther Party so notorious to its detractors and so respected by its supporters in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But ever since the decline of the party in the mid-’70s, there hasn’t been an organization that has been able to recapture the revolutionary soul with the same spirit as the organization created by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland of ’66. The closest thing, perhaps, has been the evolution of hip-hop culture and the messages of men such as Chuck D, Posdnuos, Q-Tip and newer acts such as Common, Talib Kweli and Dead Prez.
“We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities.
We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology.”
What kind of opportunities do you see touring with Ghostface?
I think it’s great for us both being able to sell out houses. It’s obvious that Ghostface is a hip-hop staple, because I think his representation and his crew have brought a lot in the reign of legendary mike-handling to the game. I think Dead Prez has carved our own niche, but the important thing about this opportunity is that it gives me the stage to talk to people who may not know as much about Dead Prez as they could. Also, it’s an opportunity to let them hear parts of my new album. If you’ve heard about Dead Prez, that can tell you that we’re still here and we’re furthering a chapter of revolutionary culture.
What’s on the horizon for Dead Prez?
A new album. It’s so early that I can’t even tell you the date, but I can tell you that it’s definitely going down and there are contracts and business negotiations being procured in order to make it happen. I don’t even cross my fingers for it; I just do what I do. We’ve been making music, and sometimes you guys never get a chance to hear it, and that’s the more fucked-up part about it. That’s why I’m making [this] album. I just want people to know we’re still here. Look out for the new Dead Prez album, look out for the new Dead Prez collaboration album that we did with the Outlawz — that’s Tupac’s Outlawz — [look out for] a few more projects, and we got Stic.man’s solo album coming out.
Why did you choose to release Confidential through Koch?
It happened as a consequence of hooking up with my business partner Fabrizio Sotti, who’s a producer and songwriter who’s done a lot of legendary work, and [because of] his relationship with Koch, because my relationship with Koch was pretty fucked up. We had these mixtapes, Turn off the Radio, and one of them was distributed through Koch and we didn’t like the way it was handled. The things that happened, that transpired, I won’t really get into them. But it was my partner Fabrizio Sotti who made me take another look at Koch, look at it from another point of view We could get more of the profits of the records that we sell than we have ever gotten.
You’re featured on the upcoming Spitkicker mixtape and you talked about the Turn off the Radio mixtapes before. How important do you think the mixtape industry is to hip-hop and how has it changed the game?
It’s very important to the game because it is our underground. It is our voice straight to the people. I think a mixtape is a direct relationship to the people, without the middle man, and that’s the most important thing about it. I think all our mixtapes reach our small communities in ways that we could never directly say to the people themselves so I think that’s a very enormous phenomenon of hip-hop.
The phenomenon of the mixtape began way back: Kid Capri, Ron G, early blends, Doo Wop, Tony Touch, all them dudes, man. That’s the reason why radio is all up on deejays now, because they know they are the direct connection to the people. That’s why you see the radio hiring the street deejays, because they want the same clout, [they want] to reach the same people that he can get listening to his tapes.
Ever since the mid-’70s and the decline of the Black Panther Party, why do you think another organization hasn’t been able to step forward with the same magnitude?
Because the government is there with a counter-insurgency to set back any attempts to organize the black masses into political organizations that can seek self-determination in our lifetime. And that’s really our goal: in our lifetime, self-determination. The U.S. government brutally has led an onslaught against anybody who attempts to do that, whether it’s radically or conservatively, for those groups of people. It’s evident in crack-cocaine, heroin, [any] drug use, and then it’s also evident in who’s in jail for the drugs. It doesn’t make any sense. They never caught any criminals but they have the whole black community warehoused behind jails. I think that’s part of the counter-insurgency. There’s also a counter-insurgency around the war on poverty.
“We want full employment for our people.
We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society.
We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.”
What made you choose to attend Florida A&M?
I went to Florida A&M because I was trying to figure out what was the best way to not follow a cycle that I’ve seen my friends go into: getting locked up, [getting into] drugs or going into the military. I didn’t really have an idea of getting an education or what field I would go into at all. It was really an escape, and I took that way because I felt like I could change my life.
Now that you’re older, what’s your opinion in general on America’s higher education system?
I think [it’s] assimilation education, and I’m even speaking more to the historically black universities, because that’s what Florida A&M is. They call it a black university, but it’s not. It’s controlled by the same state that controls Florida State University, and the idea is that you can build these drones who are replaceable parts in the machine of capitalism. They just pump out people who can steadily build that workforce, building up companies that only do for capitalism what it needs to do, and if that doesn’t happen then there’s no place for them within the workplace. That has been the case for most generations.
I went to school and I figured out that only about twenty percent of the people who graduate get jobs. And I was like, “What the fuck is it all about?” It’s like, Okay, you want us to have red white and blue in our minds even if we can’t get no green in our pockets? There wasn’t no education going on there; I got my education in the streets. I got my education from the opposite of being on that campus. I really got the best education I would recommend to anybody to get a political education, and that’s where I got mine: in the streets of Tallahassee.
You were featured in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party movie. Could you talk about the vibe of actually being there?
It was great. I had a ball doing it. I had a ball fucking with these crazy ass artists. I’ve been fucking with Dave for a long time; I mean, it’s not nothing new. Let me tell you, he’s always been a hip-hop junkie, and he’s a little relief for us — comic relief. He just comes through on his own terms, and that’s how we get down. But on the real, I enjoyed the movie a lot. I think it’s an example of revolutionary culture. I think he lets in the most critical pieces, and he gave a lot of light to artists that I think should be recognized in relation to one another, because that’s more powerful. Individually, even if some of those artists are platinum, together we’re more powerful.
Talking about that movie and the recent Academy Awards, Crash won Best Picture. Do you think Hollywood is changing its attitude toward black actors and actresses?
No, I don’t. I think Hollywood uses it as an opportunity to put standards on us, and we gotta make sure that Hollywood can’t do that. So fuck ’em.
We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
We want completely free health care for all black and oppressed people.
How involved are you currently with the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement?
I’m not very involved with them at all right now, but I am a supporter of the organization, and that’s where I got my primary political education. (Note: Two of the main focuses of the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement have been demanding African community control of health care and community control of housing, which M-1 helped fight for as President of the Brooklyn chapter of the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement.)
We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people, other people of color, all oppressed people inside the United States.
We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.
We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held in U.S. Federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.
Can you talk about your involvement in the “Hands off Assata” movement and what you believe is the legacy of Assata Shakur?
I think Assata is a shining example of a victory in our community that the U.S. government will never let us live down. [She’s] a victor in a way that she’s not been serving time in U.S. prison walls for being a she-ro in our community. Assata Shakur represents that last faction of hope in Cuba, where she is in exile. For us, she is our mother comrade. We protect her and we want to support her in every way, and it also means to give light to the fact that the U.S. placed a million-dollar bounty on her head, and I think that is an attack on a movement that still exists today, the movement that I’m apart of, the African Liberation movement, the Black Liberation movement [and] the Freedom movement.
Do you believe that organizations such as Counter Intelligence Program still exist and, if so, do they target members of the hip-hop community?
I think that’s pretty evident, because there is such a thing as the hip-hop police, and there wouldn’t be such an organization unless it was performed by the government and its agencies such as the local police departments that cooperate with them. There’s also the newest form of counter-intelligence programs, and that’s called the Patriot Act and any ensuing acts to follow, which are basically a regeneration and revamp with the hype around this word “terrorism” — codeword, terror.
Terror is only the politics of the U.S. Terror is U.S. capitalism at work, imperialism. I don’t see why they have to fight terrorism; they’re just fighting themselves. That has helped to revamp this whole idea that we’re gonna fight this war, which really just boils down to being the abrogation of our rights, our human rights as citizens of this country. George Bush came out and told us openly two or three months ago that he’s spying on us. This is the basis of why I call my album Confidential.
Who is M-1?
M-1 is an aspiring revolutionary. M-1 is one half of Dead Prez. He’d like to be viewed as a great emcee who meant a lot to the game and I want “Fuck the Police” to be written on my tombstone.
Parts in italics taken from the Black Panther Ten-Point Plan