Dead Prez: Get Free or Die Trying
- By Ryan Graham
During the late 90s' hip-hop witnessed a resurgence of advocacy for revolution and black self-love that hadn't been heard since the heyday of Public Enemy. Dead Prez is one of the better groups to emerge from this new school that melds social revolution to the urban realism of thug life. As Dead Prez conceives it, thug living does not revolve around the self-cannibalism of gangsta rap, but rather a need to politically enhance the lives of black and brown men who struggle for survival in America's inner cities. Get Free or Die Trying is the third offering from the Florida duo that acts as a continuum to the themes from their previous work. There isn't much new here, so if the themes of social revolution and political upheaval didn't grab you before then don't expect to be convinced the third time around. This is an album for fans and people who desire an alternative to the Clear Channeling of rap music in contemporary radio; Chingy fans need not apply.
Most of the tracks clock in at less than four minutes, giving the album a brisk pace as it interweaves through considerations of the legal system, urban life and familial relations. The best songs can be heard in the first half with "Coming of Age", a meditation on the rites of passage for young black men affected by the material rewards and painful consequences of the drug trade. The blend of revolution and urban desperation reaches perfection on "Scared to Die", with the narrator ready to sacrifice all in the name of abolishing the system. A rapid synthesized piano underlies his sentiments as he spits "I aint scared to die/I aint got shit to lose. Plus I aint happy here living on a planet full of fools". The album loses its initial thrust in second half, due to an overuse of R&B; elements that muddle tracks under sung parts that don't fully compliment the MC'ed portions. One notable exception is "Window to My Soul" which starkly realizes the sadness of a man who's seen his older brother lost to drug addiction and finds himself powerless to do anything about it. Other than the uneasy marriage between rap and R&B; on some tracks, Get Free. . . succeeds in what it sets out to do; lyrically empower the consciousness of the young, black and angry while pushing the necessity for radical social change. This is perhaps no better represented than in the closing statement of "Baby Face".
I'm an outlaw/rebel to America
Banging on the system/won't be a victim
I'ma hit'em up!
Bang'em in the neck and gut
And I won't stop banging 'til the coffin's shut.
Ryan Graham, 28, is a high school dropout who somehow picked up a B.A. in political science from UCLA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org