Dead Prez @ 02 Academy
Political consciousness has long been a bedrock for hip hop. From Grandmaster Flash dropping The Message, to Kendrick’s jazz-infused To Pimp A Butterfly, for better or worse, there has always been the inclination to deliver a message in hip hop to counteract the abundance of bravado that has come with it. For every Ice Cube there’s a Vanilla Ice, a 50 Cent to every Mos-Def, and for every Chuck D there’s a Flavor Flav.
With Dead Prez it is hard to know exactly where to stand. Their hearts are clearly in what they do and they are on the right tracks with their message. But there’s an overall feeling of naivety and confusion that runs through the music that’s apparent in tonight’s gig.
But before that, it would be a crime not to give a few words to the main support act Black Josh, who – accompanied by Sleazy J and donned with a dope D-Generation X top – simply killed it. Rhyming with frat boy flair to a mixture of trap and old-school hip hop beats, the Mancunian had back-to-basics hip hop fans foaming at the mouth.
Dead Prez’s set was slightly less straightforward. Drawing largely from their lauded debut album Let’s Get Free, M-1 and stic.man found time in between the politically-charged tracks to discuss topics as current and far-reaching as the American election, healthy eating and The Matrix.
Not to take anything away from the performance as the sound quality, delivery and reaction from what was, to say the least, a diverse crowd was on-point. The Brooklyn duo swaggered to either side of the stage, donned in balacalava’s, fedoras and leather jackets with messages like ‘Avec ces frères’.
The incongruity came between songs and the mixed messages in the tracks themselves. A bizarre moment when stic.man compared himself to Morpheus from The Matrix made for painful watching, and it was specifically when the New York duo paused ‘Dirty White Girl’ – an achingly poor song with a chorus of ‘Dirty White Girl, She’s So Addictive’ –to discuss the method of how to conduct a call and response, to then have to remonstrate on how ‘Dirty White Girl’ is not in fact a song about a drug-addled white woman. The fact this was then followed by ‘Police State’, which includes the refrain ‘Women don’t never get respected’ in the chorus, seemed to act as a way of kicking a lead balloon once it’s gone down.
Awkward turtles aside, a rousing rendition of ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop’, which you feel a good portion of the crowd came solely to hear, clears the air and is followed by a feel-good play of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, both of which kept the show together and gave it that classic feel people wanted.