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Last Updated: 06/01/2011
Your Power: An Interview with of Dead Prez
Jesaka Saylove of Dead Prez speaks with Jesaka Saylove about success, art, revolution, nonviolence, education, community values, health, gender, the right to land, inspiration, peace, war, his latest music, books, and projects, and a lot more.

SL: On the line with me right now I've got from Dead Prez. - how are you today?

SM: I'm powerful ma'am how you doing?

SL: I'm very good. I wanted to interview you because the music you make is particularly critical of social institutions. I was wondering - if - the ability to present social and political commentary in your music was something that intentionally motivated you to be successful in your music career, or if that was something not intentional, but came through inevitably.

SM: That's a good question. You know, anything that we strive to do, I think anyone, anybody, any goal that you have, you want to be successful. So, what "success" is gets defined by different things by different people. So for us success is about, you know, being able to do the music that we do, get it out to as many people as we can, and keep control of as much of the business and the power surrounding that as we can. So that's it, we're still on that mission. So, you know other people might determine success is how many records you sell, or whatever, so it's all relative. But definitely we wanted to do music that was relatable to our real conditions as people, we wanted to do holistic music so that we could talk about politics, we could talk about having fun, we could talk about ah the struggles, the liberation struggles, we could talk about having sex, you know a holistic music - and we wanted to break all the boxes and the stereotypes that, you know, artists find themselves in. You know, whether it be conscious, gangsta, or neither, or alternative or whatever they want to call it, we wanted to break all them boxes and just show that human beings express themselves in diverse ways.

SL: I'm actually wondering about the title of your album "Revolutionary But Gangsta" - "RBG".

SM: Mm hm.

SL: And I was wondering if you could actually define for us what it is that you mean by revolutionary and what it is you mean by gangsta.

SM: All right… Well, the phrase revolutionary but gangsta basically describes our world view as artists, and it also coins a lot of peoples' perspective in a concise little phrase. Being that people want change, people who recognize that the system itself is fundamentally corrupt. The system of imperialism and capitalism, and all the other "ism's" that call themselves "governments of the people" but are really governments of the profit. And, these people want to see that fundamentally change. That means a revolutionary change - a complete change. Then, simultaneously, you have people who live in those systems, live under the tyranny of those systems, under the education, the medical programming, the television, radio programming, of those, ah "ism's" and recognize that it's a gangsta situation. It's a gangsta monopoly over resources and over education, etc. etc. and military. And people who recognize that are forced as people to gang up, and click up, in our own interest. We are forced, whether it's crip-blood, whether it's young and brown, whether it's even, you know, Muslim and 5 percent nation, or whatever it is that people feel they need that in order to survive under the gangsta system that we live in. And some of those organizations are more progressive than others, based off the education, the political education you have, but nevertheless, there's a need for people to get each other's backs. So, this is what we mean when we say "revolutionary but gangsta", we want to fundamentally change our conditions, but we know in order to do it we have to be organized, and that is not so much saying that we have to be organized in accordance to the oppressor's laws; but you know what we're talking about is against the law. You're talking about freedom, you're talking about justice. You're talking about sustainability for people, real education. All these things people have been murdered, crucified, jailed, tortured, intimidated for standing up for. So these things are outlawed. You know, it's gangsta to be about freedom. So, you know, for us "revolutionary but gangsta" is an understanding that in order to make a fundamental change in the system, then you're going to be considered an outlaw. And ah, we recognize that, and we want to make sure that that term "gangsta" is progressive.

SL: okay

SM: It means that we are pushing for our freedom and not committing genocide - that we are not committing genocide on ourselves.

SL: Do you have a personal feeling about nonviolent movements, as related to this whole philosophy - any inspiration you take from them, or any personal feelings you have about nonviolent movements.

SM: Well, you know, my best understanding of so called nonviolent movements or whatever comes from Malcolm X. Where Malcolm said, you know, you're nonviolent when people are nonviolent with you. And Malcolm also said nonviolence is a tactic, it is not a philosophy. So, you know, where it is wise for us to be nonviolent, where it makes sense, that's always the first option - first, second, third, fourth option. But where you are being violently attacked, and you've exhausted, you know, your options, Malcolm X said it's foolish to teach a person not to defend themselves. So I wouldn't call self-defense violence, I would call it common sense, or Malcolm said, it's intelligence. So you know, it's like, I'm a martial artist, I train in the martial arts, I don't go around trying to knock peoples head off --

SL: Right

SM: -- But in defense of my family, or in defense of somebody I felt that I could help, then, that's what I'm training to be able to do is to keep the peace. So, I think we have to redefine the terms again, and a lot of people use nonviolence as a philosophy.

SL: Right

SM: So they going into it saying no matter what, nonviolence is the right way to do things, but nature itself has violence, you know, so man's moral judgments are not more profound than nature itself, and there is a time and a place for all things. You know, I think - I would LIKE to live in a nonviolent world, I can say that. You know?

SL: Getting into some of your music, the song "They Schools" - and there's a lot of social commentary on social and political systems. I think right at the intro, it's saying "The same people who created the school system created the prison system and the entire social system…"

SM: Mm Hm

SL: "…Ever since slavery."

SM: Mm Hm

SL: Could you speak on that? You're knowledge or you're feeling about the social institutions that are now operating, and just the connections going on?

SM: Okay - let's see, where to start. Well, let's take for example the medical industry, or the meat and the dairy industry. Right? These are - these are institutions that are groups of corporations that are privately owned by a wealthy mostly white folks, right? The beef industry, you name it. And what they do, is they hire, they grease palms, they pay people to go to congress and pay the congress people - and pay the law makers and legislators, right? To pass laws and policies that further their profits at the expense of the so called American people and at the expense of the world - the world's people. Use, for example, the diary industry, which has lobbied to the Food and Drug Administration to agree and to put into policy that we need 3 servings of dairy products a day to maintain the American standard of health. By the way - the American standard of health is one of the worst in the world - for obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, you name it. And meat and dairy - meat and dairy are the only source of cholesterol. You don't get that from plants - you get that from meat and dairy. So when the F.D.A. says that you're supposed to have 3 servings of meat and dairy a day and then at the same time you look at the cholesterol levels - which means heart disease, which means artery disease, in America, who also has the highest rate of that, over all the third world countries combined - you say "oh!" so, the diary lobbyists are causing the heart disease, and the government is getting paid off to make that a policy - in the school lunch, in public school programs, and in the minds of the people. So, that's just one example that people can google and research and understand that we've been lied to about the foods that we eat for the profit of those companies and the government, because there is no scientific data that supports their policies - only economic data.

SL: It seems that you do find health - environmental health and personal health - very relevant politically and socially...

SM: Oh, yeah! I mean, to me, you know personal health, environmental health and social health is the key - I think - that unites people across classes, and across races, and nations. Because we all are victims of our ignorance, we're victims of the lies that have been told, we're victims of our addictions, to the sugar and the caffeine, and the meat and the processing of our food supply. All across the world, we're victims of that. And, I think when you realize that the reason that we're suffering from so many curable diseases is because of the profit motives of these corporations, I think it gives you more of an understanding of why we need to change the thing. You know, so when sometimes when you talk about slavery, that's not enough for people. When you talk about the prison system, you know, and the disproportionate amount of brown and black people within that - and the corruption and torture and all those things, that's not enough for people. When you talk about the high rates of police brutality and an unarmed man getting killed by the police everyday, that's not enough for people. When you talk about the failing rate of the school system of children, that's not enough for people. When you talk about infant mortality rate in the black and brown community, that's not enough for people. You got to go and find something right on your plate - right in your paper bag from "Crack Donald's" or "Taco Hell" or "Sick Fillet" and you got to show people that this government and the policies of this government will continue to decrease the quality of our lives. When you connect a person's mom suffering from diabetes, a dad from heart attack - things like that - when you connect that to the politics that we live in - if a person doesn't relate, doesn't feel like they have a certain responsibility, to that, then they're dead all ready.

SL: Is there a particular human rights issue that resonates with you?

SM: Yeah! Human Rights period! A particular human rights issue is the right - ah, okay - let's, this is just use one for today - tomorrow it might be something else, but - the right to the land. The right for people to have access to the land and to produce food. You know. You got corporations like Coca Cola with their Disani water products - and Deer Park, and Crystal Geiser and all these folks that go in, buy up the land and bottle all the water up and put chemicals in it and sell it as pure water - and then the people who need water, you know, have to get the chemical water, we have to buy water in bottles. Monsanto is genetically altering corn seeds and then putting a patent on it, and now farmers can't even grow corn without Monsanto's corn seed killing their seed - or them being sued because Monsanto's seed has floated onto their farm. So, I think the human beings have the right to the land - and not individuals. And, I think that's a human right - to be able to feed yourself, cloth yourself and provide shelter for yourself whether you participate in the capitalist economy or not, you know?

SL: Have you had any thoughts of what type of social institutions we as a people need to build to create a culture of peace as opposed to a culture of war?

SM: Mm, good question. Well, I'd like to talk about peace first and then remind me if I miss the last part of your question. What peace is, you know, I think you can't talk about peace without talking about power. Peace in the way we see it promoted, to me, and to a lot of people I'm sure, comes up as peace is something as an appeal - like we're going to appeal to people's consciousness to be at peace - to stop fighting - to smile and shake hands and get along. You know, this is what people are taught that peace is all about, happiness, right? But unfortunately, that's not, in the real world, that's not what peace is. In the real world peace is a result of power - and power is what makes people respect your rights, is what makes people respect your borders, your culture, your tradition, your power. If you have power - people say well we can't just run in there and wage war or bring war to these folks. Why? Because they can fight back and they can do harm to us. So we're going to have what? Peace. And we're going to have respect. Now when you don't have power, and you say, we just want peace. Listen, we put our guns down, we turned in all our missiles. We're on our knees, our eyes are closed, our heads are down, all we want is peace. And what happens? Is the war mongers come through cut heads off, take everything you got. That's what happens in that kind of peace. And this is history talking, not just me talking. So, I think that when we talk about building institutions that are about peace - they have to be institutions that are about power. And by power, I don't mean power of corruption, power of violence over people, power of dictatorships or anything like that. By power, what I mean is organization that mobilizes people so that individuals have a steak and a control, and an ownership in the institution. Because all power is based off the will of people - whether it's through their education or through their mass ignorance - you are using that power of those people to substantiate whatever power you're talking about. So, the kind of power we're talking about is the power of people - the power of people to be educated clearly on what's going on and to be integrated in the ownership of the institutions in their communities. So I think some of those things would be, well, something we already talked about is health:

From hospitals that are holistic, and not insurance based... organic farming vs. conventional, genetically modified farming, institutions of education that are culturally relevant to the communities they serve and that deal with the real nature of education, which is self development and not preparing you to be a slave or a wage slave - things of that nature. Creative expressions, the arts and technologies - solar technology, wind technology, water technology, internet technology. Studying international relations, studying places like Cuba and Tanzania, Venezuela, places that are progressive in terms of their health care systems and institutions and day cares and even looking towards sustainable energy development.

You know, so, my two cents as a rapper. (laughs.)

SL: Thank you. A few more questions.

SM: Mm Hm.

SL: Looking at Hip Hop - and - just looking at the roles, the gender roles. Specifically the hyper masculinity in a lot of the portrayed Hip Hop Culture and just looking at how those roles - the roles expected of both men and women, and how that effects youth as well. I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts about this, reasonably, what could and can change to consciously challenge those stereotypes.

SM: Mm. Yeah, I think art is always going to reflect the consciousness of the community. A lot of people want art - or - a lot of people want the community to reflect the consciousness of the art. They want, if I come out with a positive rap, right, they want everyone to say "you hear that, okay, get in line and believe that!" Like you have a magic wand, like my rap was so strong that it changed the whole community. But it don't work like that. How it works is, the community's effort on the daily, in the neighborhoods, in the households, in the schools, in the institutions, create a code of ethics, a code of values, a way of life that people grow up in and it comes out of their expressions naturally. You know, I think the older generation gets upset with the younger generation because of how the younger generation expresses it's contempt, how it gives the middle finger to everything, whoop de whoo, and they don't realize that that is because of what the younger generation has inherited from what the older generation was doing.

SL: Right

SM: And, if you want to see the music change, the community gotta change, then the music will change. Because a lot of these dudes is just following trends, and they just trying to make a dollar based off of what the radio plays and they just trying to copy that format. It's a program, that's why they call it a radio program. So, I realize that a lot people been looking for these rappers to be leaders, they're looking in the wrong place. These rappers aren't leaders, they're following the trend. They're capitalizing off the ignorance, they capitalizing off their own experiences and struggles and hardships, and they're turning it into ways to make money. So, that is not our leaders, you know. Our leaders are the people who dare to build institutions, who dare to address the needs of the people in real ways and real programs in real consciousness building. So, you know, we always say, you know, it's not about changing the music it's about changing the movement. And then all these rappers are going to follow. You know, they wasn't talking about Bush until the masses of people said "George Bush is a terrorist", you know, then rappers we're saying "it's okay now". Okay, so yeah, yeah, "George Bush is bad", whoop de whoo.

SL: Right

SM: You know, they wasn't talking about politics until Obama was running for office. And then when it's cool, you know, he's the cool and charismatic black man running for president, now I'm all political now, you know. So, rappers is just going to follow the trends. And we gotta, even though they're popular and the system gives them the floor to tap-dance on and say "here's one of your leaders" because he's rapping, or he's dancing, or he's singing or she's singing. That doesn't mean they are our leaders. Leadership is initiative to get things done. And if they're not trying to get no new things done, then they're not a leader.

SL: Do you see Hip Hop as being effective in raising the critical consciousness of the people?

SM: I only think it's a barometer. I think Hip Hop is the language of the youth around the world. And it's something that can be studied as a barometer - it's something that can be used to engage young people. But it can't be expected... to... be... you can't make it the scapegoat and you can't make it the spearhead. You know, you have to use it as a barometer to assess where people are at, to engage people, to draw a crowd, you know, things like that. And then you gotta have the real campaigns, the real organizations in place to take advantage of the crowd who came to see T.I. perform, you feel me? Or, or even Dead Prez or whoever, you know, you gotta have the real organization in place and use Hip Hop as a magnet, you na' mean?

SL: Definitely. Can we actually get into some of your projects? You got a new album dropping.

SM: Mm Hm.

SL: Can you let me know what new projects you have - new projects coming out?

SM: All right, well right now the latest Dead Prez project we got is dropping June 23rd on i-Tunes and everywhere the record is available. It's called Pulse of the People - pulse like taking your pulse, seeing if you're alive. And, ah, it's produced by DJ Greenlantern who also worked with Nas and Immortal Technique and he's a great producer and DJ out of New York. So, that's our latest project. And I also have an album called Manhood available at i-tunes which is a solo project but my partner M1 is on there as well, and Kujo from Goodie Mob, Young Noble from the Outlaws, and that's a project we're working on. We got a new book that I put out with my wifey, it's called The Vegan Soul Food Guide to the Galaxy about vegetarian lifestyle and how to keep that soulful taste that we love without the harmful effects of, you know, masters-scraps from the masters table.

SL: Definitely

SM: In Atlanta there's an independent school for African boys called San Kofa that I work with and support, and ah, we're working on a new initiative called Hood Green, Hood Green Movement, where we're putting things in place to do education on sustainability for communities of color - on health, on empowerment, environment, things of that nature.

SL: That's wonderful! I'm glad to hear about all those projects, definitely want to check the book out. Where can we find the book actually?

SM: You can find the book at nattral dot com (n-a-t-t-r-a-l, nattral dot com). Oh! And one other organization that I always send people to check out, it's called uhuru (u-h-u-r-u, uhuru movement dot org) and that is a place where, coming up, when I was 17-18 years old I was involved with the Uhuru Movement which is a democratic rights organization for African people and this is where a lot of the political education that you hear in "let's get free" was instilled into us and where we've got a lot of our on the ground organizing work in the prisons, around police brutality rights, just a general education of what the system is - from capitalism, imperialism and all these type of things - and if anyone is familiar with our album "let's get free" the intro song was a song called "wolves" and we had a brother speaking on that song, his name is Chairman Omali Eshatella, and he is the Chairman of the Uhuru Movement. So, he's very much alive, very much organizing around the world today, so it's not a back in the 60's type of thing, it's now - you know, you can get involved in the Uhuru Movement if you so desire, so, right on.

SL: I appreciate it. Actually, I was gonna ask you, also, if there are any songs - I know there are so many of your own songs that we could draw from - but are there other songs by other artists that really inspire you as far as raising critical consciousness or just a peaceful social movement?

SM: Mm, I don't know about peaceful - but I'm definitely inspired - let's see, there's a rapper named AZ. Who people probably know from Nas' 1st album, and he's been doing his thing, but he's a great lyricist and he's always on that - on the cusp between the streets and consciousness - you know, and he has a mix tape he put out called "N4L" "Niggaz 4 Life" - but his commentary and the lyrics and the skits and all this is just really inspiring - it's good workout music. There's an artist named Supa Nova Salaam out of New York, he's the son of Queen Afua, who is a holistic health counselor as well. His album is coming out now - but he has a lot of work, he calls himself the hip hop medicine man - and ah, he's a healer and got a real gangsta sound but positive messages. So, I'm inspired by him personally and professionally.

That's two off the top of my head, yeah.

SL: I mean, I could go on and ask you so many social and political questions - I mean, capital punishment, just so many things.

SM: Mm Hm

SL: I'd just like to open it up and see if there is anything else that you wanted to mention or go over before we wrap up the interview?

SM: Well, I'm the same way, you know we build and we building, but you know I like to keep it short and sweet. And if anybody wants to stay up on Dead Prez on what we doing and what we thinking, Dead Prez dot com is our hub on the internet. And my company Boss Up Inc., we have a web site called boss up b-u dot com - that's one long word (boss up letter b letter u dot com). And where we have our merchandise for Dead Prez, we have new books, a book I wrote called The Art of Emceeing, a book I wrote the forward on called Rap, Race and Revolution by a brother named Supreme Understanding, hood news, videos, everything in the world of Dead Prez, that's how people can stay up on us. And also, we have a monthly magazine called Ammo Magazine loaded with info where we put people on to information that we get - whether it's books, dvd's, seminars, lectures, any kind of sources of information that goes into us and goes into our families and our music. So that's Ammo Magazine, people can subscribe, it's only one dollar a month, and you get free music, and you get password access. So, that's what's up. is a rapper, writer, producer, social activist, and martial artist, for more information check out

Jesaka Saylove is a peace scholar, hip-hop artist, and radio personality. Check her out at