Dead Prez Digital Biography

This politically conscious US hip-hop duo comprises M-1 (Lavon Alfred, 1973, Jamaica, West Indies) and (b. Clayton Gavin, 1975, Shadeville, Florida, USA), who met in 1990 while both were attending Florida A&M University. Dead Prez differs from many politicized rap groups in that they came to activism first and music second. Alfred, who has since adopted the African name Mutulu Olugbala, grew up in Brooklyn’s Albany housing projects. Expelled from Erasmus Hall high school for delinquent behaviour, he temporarily relocated to North Carolina to complete his diploma but afterwards returned to New York where he supported himself by selling crack cocaine. He eventually applied to university, was accepted and met Gavin. A year later, his mother was apprehended on a drug-possession charge. Gavin had witnessed the effects of the crack epidemic on his own family growing up in Florida and the arrest strengthened the political convictions of both, inspiring them to become involved with Tallahassee’s Black Survival Movement. Their activism eventually brought them to New York, where they were discovered by Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian in 1995 at a block party in Brooklyn. By the following year Jamar had brokered them a recording contract with Steve Rifkind’s Loud Records.

Conceiving of music less as a craft and more as a platform for challenging racism and economic oppression, the duo garnered considerable attention with an appearance on Loud’s Set Up tape, Food, Clothes, And Shelter and a 12-inch single, ‘Police State’. The latter defined a sound not unlike a radicalized Mobb Deep, laying an ominous rhythm track underneath materialist analyses worthy of Pathfinder Press (although the resulting mood was so bleak it was more likely to inspire suicide than revolution.) Alfred and Gavin spent the next few years mastering the recording process and in 2000 released their debut full-length, Let’s Get Free, to almost universal acclaim. Much of the praise came on the strength of ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop’, which welded their common sense critiques of capitalist society to a southern jeep-beat better outfitted to deliver them to the masses. Tracks such as ‘Mind Sex’ and ‘Be Healthy’ found them expanding their philosophical as well as their sonic repertoire, employing Latin guitar and spoken word interludes to promote an alternative lifestyle à la the Native Tongues Posse. They even adopted a cautionary, if not counter-revolutionary tone on ‘Animal In Man’, a rap adaptation of George Orwell’s satirical take on the Russian revolution.

By all accounts Alfred and Gavin continued to practice what Dead Prez preached even as they achieved widespread success. This meant balancing their musical careers with a steady regimen of community activism, including involvement in the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement and distributing the Burning Spear newspaper on New York’s subway trains, supplemented with martial arts and a general ethos of self-sufficiency that even extended to sewing their own clothes. They parted company with Loud but a dispute with their former label meant they were forced to adopt the DPZ moniker for their second full-length recording, Turn Off The Radio: The Mixtape Volume 1.

 A two-volume mixtape project -- Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 1 and Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 2: Get Free or Die Tryin' -- followed in 2002 and 2003, boasting tracks and new productions, and their proper studio follow-up, RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta, appeared in 2004. Two years later the group collaborated with the three remaining members of the Outlawz for Can't Sell Dope Forever, followed shortly after by Soldier 2 Soldier, a joint record between and Young Noble. 2009's Pulse of the People, presented by DJ Green Lantern and technically the third volume in the Turn off the Radio series, was enlivened by appearances from Chuck D, Bun B, and Styles P. In 2012 they issued Information Age, an album filled with more futuristic and electro-based production but the same politically minded lyrics.