"You wonder why we be like ‘Fuck the law’ / You wonder why we write upon the wall / You wonder why we burn the cities down/ ‘Cause we don’t give a fuck the time is now."
Admittedly, not the most positive message to wake up to in the morning. But when Dead Prez burrows that tune into your brain, it’s tough to get it out of your head. That’s precisely the point, of course, as Dead Prez aims to blow the lid off the injustices and conspiracies that plague inner cities across America. While they do succeed in displaying the full spectrum of struggle over a few slick beats, their "revolutionary but gangsta" album often struggles to balance those opposing sides.
Dead Prez is mainly concerned with making political points, as the inherent conflict of life today is frustratingly laid out across the sixteen tracks on Get Free or Die Tryin’ The anarchist bent of the above-quoted "F The Law" — because abbreviating profanity is so very rebellious — is balanced by tunes like the low-key "Coming of Age," a look back on the factors influencing one’s life. Responsibility is accepted where appropriate ("I could blame it on my environment why I live so bad / Or I could blame it on my mom or my dad / but I was into crack hard") while laying out the stressors present in the ghettos today.
The album flip-flops back and forth between intelligent defiance — often evoking Marcus Garvey and Huey P. Newton — and mindless thuggism, always accompanied by a cry of "product of the environment." While that is a valid point, it would seem that revolutionaries aren’t so much in the business of perpetuating the conditions that spurred the revolution in the first place. "White House Is The Rock House" is a scathing indictment of the government supplying drugs to inner cities as a form of chemical warfare, yet on "Tallahassee ’93" they claim they’ll sell dope to avoid being broke. Across the span of the album, the inconsistencies pile up and reduce the impact of their militant indignation.
Short bursts of reality, like "Babyface" redeem Get Free to some extent, and the expressive "Windows to My Soul" is a stirring if somewhat depressing portrait of the drug war at home. "RBG Love" is a poignant call to arms, and probably the highlight of the album, embracing freedom and consciousness rather than violence. But these moments are sporadic, hidden between nihilistic rhymes espousing money and hoes, which can be found in hip-hop bargain bins across the nation. Describing the status quo is an important tool for revolutionaries; living it defeats the purpose. Dead Prez is strongest when advocating change, and they should stick to their strengths.