M-1 and stic.man rap for a crowd in the Catalyst’s Atrium. Photo by Jasper Lyons.
M-1 and stic.man rap for a crowd in the Catalyst’s Atrium. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

The Atrium provided the perfect intimate setting for artists and audience members alike to connect over their mutual love of hip-hop, when dead prez returned to the Catalyst last Friday. Commonly known for their song “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop, ” and a household name among true hip-hop fans, M-1 and stic.man brought the revolution to Santa Cruz, ready to open third-eyes and awaken the inner activists of their listeners.

“I like Santa Cruz’s energy,” stic.man said, to which the audience hooped and hollered, making it clear that everyone in the room felt the same way about them. Their performance featured songs from their debut album, “Let’s Get Free,” and their newest record “Worth The Sacrifice,” featuring Coach Nym, a fellow hip hop artist who’s toured with the group since the early 90’s.

M-1 and stic.man began their activist journeys through community organizing. Growing up listening to hip-hop, they found a way to channel their skills as emcees and use those skills in pursuit of the greater good.

“We used all the tools that we had, which are the basic organizing tools,” M-1 said. “But one thing that we really used was our culture and we knew hip-hop very well, so that became a way to interject.”

Known for their rebellious rhymes and grimey style of hip-hop, these artists take a firm stance against social injustice and systemic oppression. Their music openly critiques the political system, addressing the conditions of African American communities and the need for political and social change. Recognizing his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and justice, M-1 headed to Florida A&M University in 1990 where he met stic.man. They connected over shared political views and issues affecting the African-American community.

“I’m sick of working for crumbs and filling up the prisons. Dying over money and relying on religion for help,” they rapped from the song “Police State.” “We do for self like ants in a colony / Organize the wealth into a socialist economy / A way of life based off the common need / And all my comrades is ready, we just spreadin’ the seed.”

The duo focuses on sociopolitical awareness, but currently emphasizes holistic health. Stic.man established RBG FitClub record label in 2011 with his wife, merging music with apparel, books and workshops. Stic.man and M-1 feel the revolutionary state of mind includes diets and fitness routines as well.

Their collaboration as community organizers and a powerful rap duo defies all laws of traditional popular music through lyrics that openly critique the American political structure and calibrate it as a weapon of warfare against itself. Through a combination of verse flow and gangsta beats, dead prez became one of the most notable hip-hop duos and maintains its legacy to this day, popularizing the revolution by way of universal consciousness.

Stic.man performs at the Catalyst. Photo by Jasper Lyons.
stic.man performs at the Catalyst. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

Unafraid to tell it like it is, dead prez set themselves apart from other conscious rappers. Stic.man and M-1 make it clear that their responsibility as activists takes priority over their success as rappers.

“Our politics actually come first,” M-1 said. “With most artists it is kind of like music industry law that comes first. Ours is based on our community relationship first and then the music and that’s why we have maintained.”

Before dead prez graced the stage, several openers spit socially-conscious lyrics like Mic Crenshaw whose song “Superheroes” featuring dead prez emphasizes community support. As he took the stage he rapped and asked the audience, “How much longer are we going to be killed by beliefs?”

Another opener, Indo Atmosphere, was a young group of hip-hop artists including Luis Jimenez. Known as Evidence, Jimenez noticed the competing ideas in today’s hip-hop world.

“A lot of people say that hip-hop is dead — it’s not,” Jimenez said. “There’s just a lot of fronts saying, ‘Oh I’m this, I’m that. I got money I got drugs I got women.’ That doesn’t matter. If you’re talking about real-life struggles, put them with mainstream beats and you got something better. It means something. That’s what we are, that’s what we’re about.”

Jimenez acknowledged certain mainstream artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole who use their celebrity status to address social and political issues, functioning as the voice of the community. However, the pressures of staying relevant as artists in today’s music industry sometimes force them to change their message.

Since its beginning, hip-hop was a reflection of the unreported struggles within African-American communities. Rappers, DJs and artists used storytelling in order to cope with poor living conditions. Growing up in neighborhoods that were poverty-stricken and infested with drugs, stic.man and M-1 realized the need for change.

“I came into this understanding and consciousness as I grew into manhood,” M-1 said. “As I looked around and saw the state of our community…I found myself seeking a new consciousness.”

Both stic.man and M-1 feel a sense of responsibility as revolutionary artists to enlighten their audience, to be the voice of their community and to promote racial equality. Stic.man also said dead prez fans can expect to hear more messages and new material from them in the coming year.

“We want to keep inspiring people to live up,” stic.man said.