Words by Stone Roach
Dead Prez @ the Jam, Cape Town
The legendary Dead Prez arrived in Cape Town on Saturday night, professing to have 'returned home' to the land of their birth. Sticman and M-1, all the way from Florida, USA, were introduced by a local brother who had much to say about the arrival of the duo, with stuff like 'every now and again something happens that blah, blah, blah.. pay attention blah, blah blah, etc'. My partner mentioned that it felt as if we were at a meeting, not a live music gig.
Granted, in many respects Hip-Hop gatherings are never really just parties. As a philosophy and movement, Hip-Hop demands more from its devotees than the average outing, so it's understandable that the air was charged with electric anticipation.
The duo eventually burst on to stage, hammering out of plethora a smoking tunes that South Africans, and in particular, Capetonians, have grown used to this past year. Let it not be said that the Prez were in any way minus energy and passion. The two, plus their DJ, were dressed in their revolutionary colours - green, red and black and made no bones about their intentions - intentions that seemed to throw a large proportion of the audience slightly off balance in many places.
Perhaps an explanation is in order. Dead Prez are about the expansion of the consciousness. They respect their brothers, sisters and their bodies. They sing about being vegetarians and chatting to their women before they 'make love'.
They also sing about killing cops. At one stage during the gig, to the chorus of their smash hit 'Hip-Hop', they had the audience singing 'my niggas will kill cops, kill cops'. Perhaps this is the point where my respect for the outfit hit rock bottom. While I can understand the sentiment (I'm not big on pigs myself), what I realised at that point in time was that Sticman and M-1 are from the United States of America, a place where being black and minority group is very different from being black and in South Africa. Perhaps in their hood the pig represents the State and to get to the State you attack its foot soldiers, but here things are a little different.
Dead Prez come from the perspective that violence begets violence, that turning the other cheek will get you nowhere. They claim to be like Steve Biko, raised in the ghetto, but they forget that a Nelson Mandela freed this country in 1992 and, since then, we've been governed by the African National Congress. We've been liberated. We are free already. Granted, there is a large proportion of our people who are still impoverished, but shooting policemen in cold blood, given the violent history of this country and its present precarious situation, is no solution to the problem.
What the Prez should have done is a little bit of homework. It doesn't take much research to figure out that in this country, the police are targets anyways and most people sympathise or are ashamed of the fact that they are either being killed at a rapid rate by criminal elements or themselves. Police here are hardly legitimate targets of the people, as the police are the people. Here, policing is a job undertaken largely by the brothers, sisters, husbands and wives of the very people that hold Hip-Hop close to their hearts. And the last thing they're interested in doing is oppressing their brothers, who happen to be doing good for their people. A dead policeman in this country just means another family to feed.
Make no mistake, Hip-Hop in this country, particularly in the Western Cape, has been about the upliftment of the ghettos, teaching the Zulu Nation mantra of peace, love and unity to the people. Outfits such as Black Noise and Prophets of the City have been trying for years to remove the gangster image that comes with Hip-Hop, as well as trying to stop young people from carrying guns.
This is another point that the Prez obviously never did any research on. In this country have a problem with guns - everyone has one. In the words of a brother who I spoke to after the gig: 'We have enough guns here for the Prez's revolution 20 times over!' The Prez just need to spend a night with a family who have lost a member to senseless killing, be it revolutionary or otherwise, to understand why people are so opposed to violence in this country. South Africans are sick to death of violence and killing. We've seen too much of it. We are in the process of trying to become one people, one nation, to love ourselves as a whole. Guns are not the solution to any of our problems.
Nor is blatant reverse racism on any level, something which the Prez obviously have another problem with. If they'd spent one or two minutes out of their dressing room on Saturday night, they might have noticed that black and white brothers and sisters were jamming to the same, thick Hip-Hop beats. They might have seen black and white couples hanging out, black and white friends smoking phat spliffs in the corner. It's something that we're proud of in this country, something that has just started happening and something that doesn't need to be dissed by someone who hasn't any idea of how long it's taken to reach this stage. For the first and only time ever in this country, I felt as if I should feel guilt for being African, just because of the colour of my skin. I'm more an African than they'll ever be. In fact, I'm third generation African, more so than two black Americans will ever be.
The overthrow of the State should happen on many different levels. Revolution is about information, taking the power back on many levels. As Dead Prez themselves sing, it's about educating yourself, organising your life, taking control. But in this country, it's not about taking up arms against an oppressor. The revolutionaries are the ones taking guns away from children, rhyming about ways to uplift yourself from your situation, telling people that violence does beget violence and that it solves nothing.
What did I learn from Dead Prez? Nothing I didn't already know. If anything, it was this: The United States of America, in all its democratic glory, yellow brick road mentality and milk and honey image, is a place turning in on itself, a country which may be marketing itself to the rest of the world as a model of civilised society, all the while oppressing the very minority groups it claims are a part of its magnificence. When I was driving home in my car, I felt proud to be African, and more importantly, South African. Proud that I could put my fist to my heart when I greeted a brother, knowing I was as much an African as he was, knowing that in a club where I was the minority figure, my brothers were, in fact, thinking for themselves, and not being told how it is by someone whose war is going to end staring down the barrel of a gun.
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