“Is that an Idinka symbol?” M-1 asks, pointing at the tattoo on my hand. We immediately bond. Clad in an army-green outfit, from the jacket with tiny silver decals finely embroidered on each shoulder, a funky wool knit cap and army fatigue pants, he is more prepared for the ice storm in full effect outside than the small group of Canadian interviewers and photographers. After a flight delay and a hold-up at Immigration (after all, he is a Hip-Hop artist), he sat down with AfroToronto to discuss Confidential (Koch / Sotti Records) his debut as a solo artist.
Best known as half of the duo Dead Prez, M-1 is exceptionally laid back and cordial; unfazed by the number of obstacles that he previously endured this afternoon. Along with his partner stic.man, they created a ground-breaking debut EP (1998’s Police State) and phenomenal full-length albums which have birthed Hip-Hop anthems such as, “Hell Yeah,” “Mind Sex” and their best known (and the introductory track for the Dave Chappelle show) “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop.”
The group is revered as part of one of the only acts to successfully merge true musicianship with a strong social conscience. But Confidential does not signify the demise of the group. M-1 only wanted to experiment with different sounds, to create a project and work with artists that he admires.
Hip-Hop artist M-1 .
“Confidential comes from the idea that Dead Prez is controversial; that we’ve been banned and are too hot for TV,” he says. “And people’s ideas that the government is repressing us, and if you think of it in that manner, then you probably think that someone, somewhere with an ear to a glass is listening to me right now, taking notes, creating this file; this confidential file - top secret documents about M-1. Which I think is true… matter of fact I knowit’s true. To get here, getting through immigration, I saw a piece of paper that was placed in front of me by the Immigration board, that said ‘supported by the FBI’ that had listed everything I had ever done, all the infractions I have ever had with the law. So I know that there’s someone sitting back and compiling information about me and how to use it against me when the time is right.”
Collaborating with several artists, including Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, Q-Tip and former jazz guitarist turned Hip-Hop producer, Fabrizo Sotti, M-1 wanted to explore the roots of his childhood.
“My mother was a jazz singer, and I was brought up in the jazz world, Ella [Fitzgerald], Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday […]. I made songs with this concept with this theme being built. I really didn’t have the music, I had some music that I had developed myself as an artist and a producer, because I’m such a newbie in the game, I’ve only been making music for say, 13, 14 years, and I hardly play any instruments, keyboards by ear. There is so much more artistry and musicianship out here and I’m such a baby. Sometimes I’m stunned myself when people want to hear this little bit of what I want to do. I’ve learned how to make things better over these 13, 14 years and I threw this into the album. The production, the over-standing of what’s happening to me and about me instead of going through the middle I’ll go along the sides. Same guy, different strategy. And that’s who this album got made.”
When asked about the current state of Hip-Hop, and the response from some music critics that it has morphed into a global marketing tool, he believes that the artists that resonate within Hip-Hop are the ones who integrated their own personal experiences into their music. “I think that no matter what happens, no matter what capitalism tries to sell us – jewels, cars, the most important thing is to look at our own lives from a social perspective. Some sort of social analysis of what is going on. It is that viewpoint that has created the most important artists in our lives, such as Biggie Smalls and Tupac. And when artists do play into the commercial aspects – buying, the purchasing power, I think you will find that people will have to revert to what’s important.
“Even though we’re talking about our grills, all kind of Bentleys things of that kind of nature, it drives us to search deeper down for the more relevant and real things that affect our lives. I’m not fooled by it. I know when I’m being sold something. Even though some people might be dancing and not know, but I know. I’m not young, and we hope to help our audience to mature so they know when they are being sold something, and when something is being shared with us, which is the most important thing.”
After talking about the spate of gun violence in Toronto and some of the initiatives that have been presented by members of Toronto’s black community, I asked M-1 if the philosophies of revolution were still present and could be used as a mechanism for change.
“Is revolutionary possible? Can we get free really?” he wonders out loud. “Yeah, we really can. If I really didn’t believe we could get free I wouldn’t be here. You can’t mistake me for a Hip-Hop artist. Even though I use Hip-hop as my main medium for communication, I’m not a Hip-hop artist. I’m a revolutionary. It’s not going to happen magically, like one day all of a sudden, we are united. We have to work towards unity. We have to foster unity by offering up solidarity programs between different members of our community, sometimes it will be between the Somalians and the Jamaicans, sometimes it will be between the Haitians and whoever is going at it. The reality is that we have to foster communication based on solid ground for that to happen. These are some things that Hip-Hop has not taken on the responsibility to do. Hip-Hop is a voice for us, but Hip-Hop has not vocalized an agenda. Hip-Hop is to busy localizing somebody else’s agenda. It ain’t happening in our songs, not even, Jay-Z or nobody is saying ‘what we need for us’. They’re more giving us ‘what we can do for them.’”
Because Dead Prez is rich with fans but has not achieved commercial success to the level of more commercially-marketed artists, I asked him what keeps him motivated.
“My motivation is to make music that disguises itself and pops up in places where it can. I know we’ve spreads the seeds, I just have yet to see the seeds being sown and reaped. We might not be here to see the ideas, but we have spread the seeds.”
Confidential, a dual disc containing both a CD and DVD will be released on March 21st.For more information, please go to www.kochcan.com or www.deadprez.com. You can also pre-order online now at www.amazon.ca.