I often lose faith in the future of hip-hop culture. Radio and television are dominated by recycled beats and emcees who flip simplistic lyrics with the verbal complexity of a fifth-grade poem. As Jay-Z said, "If skills sold/ truth be told/ I’d probably be/ lyrically/ Talib Kweli." Long gone are the glory days of ’88, when Public Enemy, Rakim, KRS-One and Kool G Rap elevated lyricism by seamlessly blending raw hip-hop with political consciousness.
It’s been nearly four years since Dead Prez brought revolutionary politics back into hip-hop with their 2000 debut, Let’s Get Free. Caught up in label beef, Dead Prez’s sophomore album, Revolutionary but Gangsta, wasn’t supposed to be released — unless emcees Sticman and M1 censored and toned down their image. Just when it seemed RBG was destined to be lost product, DP is back and ready to pimp the system.
RBG is a blueprint to a revolutionary way of life that promotes, amongst other things, self-defense, organization, productivity and no snitching. Take the lead single, "Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)," where DP "pimps the system" by robbing a delivery man, committing credit card fraud and equating welfare as form of reparations. These tactics may seem extreme, but it’s basic survival techniques for people struggling to survive.
The album jumps off with the infectious "Walk like a Warrior," featuring Krayzie Bone and produced by Stic — Krayzie’s style blends perfectly with DP’s. On "I Have a Dream, Too," DP hits the street looking for revenge from the cops, who just shot a young boy. Stic sets the tone for then entire album: "Look at ’em run, too scared to pull they guns/ Outta shape from them coffees and them cinnamon buns/ This shit is fun, how it feel when the tables is turned."
The content is similar to that on Let’s Get Free, but RBG delves deeper into the duo’s personal lives. "Fucked Up" deals with Stic’s and M1’s crippling addiction to alcohol. "Way of Life" deals with the group’s intense martial arts training and their dedication to a new lifestyle.
RBG is solid, but it’s far from complete. It is unexplainable why Dead Prez included three different versions of "Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)" — the best being the Jay-Z-blessed remix. Stic’s beats, which back most of the tracks, aren’t wack. But wouldn’t it revolutionize hip-hop to hear Dead Prez spit over a Dre, Timberland, or Neptunes beat. Dead Prez’s politics may be too radical for some, but their refusal to conform captures the true essence of hip-hop. Raw and uncut — can I get a hell yeah?