Like Henry David Thoreau with two turntables and a microphone, Dead Prez preaches civil disobedience over beats that resonate like a shotgun blast. "Who shot Biggie Smalls?/If we don't get them they gonna get us all/I'm down for running up on them crackers in they city hall," MC Sticman barks on "Hip-Hop," a cut as flammable as gasoline. Unflinching black nationalists, whose music is "somewhere in between N.W.A. and P.E.," Dead Prez is the flip side of commercial rap. "Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?/ A dream or some substance?/ A Beemer, a necklace, or freedom? . . . This real hip-hop," the group declares on its 2000 debut, Let's Get Free.
Like Mookie throwing the trash can through the front window of Sal's Pizzeria in Do the Right Thing, Let's Get Free is meant to provoke a strong response -- and it does. The album's cover, a picture of a cadre of native Africans with guns raised in the air, was censored, owing to its provocative content, and rap radio will have nothing to do with this bunch. Still, none of this has stopped Dead Prez from serving as hip-hop's conscience -- and its fist. Raise yours, and join them.