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About M-1 (of dead prez)
Everybody wanna be free, but just keep it to yourself, you ain’t heard it from me… M-1/Confidential.
How crazy is it that one of the best rappers in the world hears your song and wants to rap on it, and your record label is dropping you on the same day? Thats a question M-1, one half of the fully automatic duo Dead Prez, curiously had to ask himself after the god emcee/President of Def Jam, Jay-Z, bridged the gap between the mainstream and the underground and hopped on the remix for the groups controversial 2004 subterranean hit Hell Yeah. Hova met Dead Prez on familiar ground, delivered a socially-charged verse within the same vein as much of the groups previous work, and made a record that was already a hit an even bigger one. But just on the heels of releasing their sophomore album, RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta, it wasnt surprising to M-1- even with the potential crossover success of the Hell Yeah Remix- that Sony Records had dropped Dead Prez from its roster.
In reality, it wasnt by design for them to be at the label in the first place. After migrating from Tallahassee, Florida to Brooklyn, New York in the early 90s, Dead Prez linked with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, who ultimately helped the group ink a deal with Steve Rifkins burgeoning powerhouse Loud Records. After waiting four long years, they dropped their critically-acclaimed debut, Lets Get Free, in 2000. But soon after, Loud Records folded, and its stable of artists were swallowed up by its parent company Sony. We were more like slaves on a plantation, and our plantation burned down, says M-1, who earned his revolutionary stripes working in Chi-town with the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement in the mid-90s to free Fred Hampton Jr. So we end up on this other plantation and we decided to run.
After Sony fumbled the ball, Dead Prez essentially ran back to where they felt their message needed to be heard most- the streets. 2003 and 2004 saw them release successive independent mixtapes/albums- Turn off the Radio Volume 1 and Turn off the Radio Volume 2: Get Free or Die Trying- both of which sold over 100 thousand units and subsequently helped the group attain a new major label deal. But it was the more so the artistic freedom begat by the black market mixtape format, as well as the types of people who consumed this new music that attracted Dead Prez.
We saw mixtapes as a hood phenomenon, M-1 explains. People would buy mixtapes and bootlegs before they even went to the store. That really happened on the corner of Fulton Street and Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. Id rather be here than in the store, because this is where people are going to buy it.
With solid industry relationships in tow, mountains of respect from their hip-hop peers, and the streets clamoring for new music from the band who was now championing a street gang-influenced red, black, and green (Revolutionary But Gangsta) bandanna movement, the majors came knocking again. This time though, Dead Prez was prepared to get over on the system. We had the RBG album since Loud, says M-1. He claims that because the album was recorded while Loud was still functional, Sony technically owned the album, and would make it hard for Dead Prez to sign elsewhere. They begged us to come back and put it out over there. We made it easy on ourselves, with an album that was three years old and only getting older.
Now relieved to be once again removed from the majors, M-1 has partnered up with famed jazz guitar player and producer Fabrizio Sottis (Cassandra Wilson) Sotti Records and KOCH Records to release his debut solo LP, Confidential. We did one or two things and then we realized we had something in common and that musically our ears are in tune, he says, claiming that his relationship with Sotti was fostered on personal grounds and developed slowly over time. I think he makes a style of music that is kind of commercial but it allows you to paint the picture in a very non-threatening way. Bolstered by guest appearances from Styles P, Q-Tip, K’naan and Cassandra Wilson- as well as his partner since their days at Florida A&M, Stic Man- Confidential is M-1s break from what everyone expects of Dead Prez-affiliated album. There’s a definite theme, but its not obvious- I didn’t telegraph where I’m coming from; if you know… then you know,” he says, claiming that fans have yet to see a side of the group other than the militant pro-black voice theyve projected so far. I dont want people to think about the usual Dead Prez. I want little boys and girls to be talking about me and saying theres this new dude M-1 whos their favorite rapper. I dont want to attract the same kind of attention that Ive attracted in the past. M-1s intentions are clear, as he envisions Confidential as the next chapter in the book Dead Prez is writing with their career. Theres this real underground thing that happened with hip-hop, and I think we were relegated to that, boxed in and couldnt leave. I think people thought it was almost like a sin for us to do music with Jay-Z. Were all doing the same thing. Hes just doing it his way and Im doing it my way. As to why hes adopted this new approach to the music industry, much of it stems from just a general lack of support within the mainstream music business for the ideas Dead Prez champions. The idea of revolution will never be popular until revolutionaries are in charge. When you have niggas in charge who want to keep down the revolution, they see me coming. Im really a target, so its definitely like, dont play that. With a change in approach, the revolution may just very well be televised after all. “But you didn’t hear it from me…”