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But the group has made its reputation with politically charged content similar to what they offered last Wednesday. Upon taking the stage, M-1's cohort, stic.man, greeted the cheering crowd with the announcement: "We just got back from Cuba, y'all!" The duo proceeded to admire women "who look fly in clothes that are comfortable" and extol the virtues of "fresh fruit and whole wheat" and "tofu." But before long they were urging the crowd to say "Fuck Giuliani!" which it did with great enthusiasm. And deferring to popular demand, they closed their brief set with "Cop Shot""Cop shot, cop shot . . . keep shooting my people/we will shoot back . . . another dead pig knocked straight off my block/Cop shot, cop shot, cop shot/black cop, white cop, all cop."
That song, according to Bandele, also got Black August turned away from Wetlands, "what we considered to be a politically conscious venue" and where dead prez has performed in the past. Supporters say the duo is now unwelcome at all the major performance spots in the city.
"It would be naive to think it is not possible" that police pressure put dead prez on the city's performance blacklist, Adams says. Indeed, activists cite numerous instances in recent years of police displeasure at musician critics, especially when the name of death row inmate and alleged cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal is involved. A 6000-strong Mumia rally this May at Madison Square Garden, where artists like Mos Def performed, drew over 100 PBA members who staged a counterprotest. Less visible, says Connie Julian of the Artists Network of Refuse and Resist, was the refusal of some security companies, staffed largely by off-duty cops, to work the event, which seriously complicated preparations for the rally.
A January 1999 Rage Against the Machine benefit for Mumia in New Jersey was similarly protested by police and government officials. And this June, Bruce Springsteen's reference to the shooting of Amadou Diallo in the song "American Skin" brought PBA protesters back to the Garden. The national Fraternal Order of Police has compiled a list of hundreds of artists, celebrities, and venues associated with Mumia-supportive efforts for "identification purposes," including numerous hip-hop groups.
Dead prez's troubles remind supporters of the controversy that surrounded once political acts such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, Ice-Twho in 1992 debuted "Cop Killer," which protests racial profilingand N.W.A., whose 1998 "Fuck tha Police" prompted the FBI to warn off the record company.
Indeed many identify, on law enforcement's side, not only an objection to lyrical content, but also a criminalization of hip-hop as a genre and culture. One music promoter declared that not a single sizable stage in the city since the closing of Tramps has been friendly to hip-hop acts. And Adams says, "The hip-hop community has been classified as enemy of the state by law enforcement agencies. It comes down to everything from their dress code to their lyrics." But, he argues, "Hip-hop is no different than any other art form, any other culture, any other group of youths attempting to express themselves."
Yet dead prez stands out from the majority of current commercial hip-hop acts. They belong to the National People's Democratic Uhuru movement, a spin-off of the Black Panther-influenced Afrikan People's Socialist Party. Their performances are peppered with shout-outs to the Cuban hip-hop scene and Assata Shakur. The rhetoric of radical politics pervades their every sentence. ("It's bigger than Irving Plaza. It's bigger than S.O.B.'s or Bowery Ballroom," says M-1. "They're only representations of the ruling class. The police are only representations of the ruling class.") Reacting to Black August's decision to protest the dead prez ban by pulling out of Irving Plaza and sacrificing major performers and money, stic.man declares, "That's solidarity."