Soft Sell


Brooklyn-based M-1 of Dead Prez doesn’t call the story coincidence, but something “the universe confirmed”: During a late-night session working on his solo LP Confidential in an East Village recording studio,

“I went downstairs to the street to get a Guinness stout,” he says, “and lo and behold, Q-Tip was standing on the corner.” He had just been thinking of the Native Tongue frontman earlier that night.”I knew he’d be perfect,” M-1 says, for “Love You Can’t Borrow,” a take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.” It’s lovers’ rock on a light bed of violins, sounding a little like the pop-jazz blends that Quincy Jones hit big with in the ’80s, and smooth-talking Q-Tip’s still the dude the bonitas want.

“For some reason, people think I’m motivated by anger or something,” M-1 chuckles. “I love relationships. Some rappers don’t, but I love being in love. It’s a great focus. It motivates me.” His love-for-love is part of a black nationalist campaign, but quiet storm palettes make Confidential sound as sweet and safe as “Saturday Love” by Cherelle and Alexander O’Neal. “Yeah. We played some things that were kind of ambiguous, or some music that sounded sonically kind of light,” M-1 admits. “But I was looking to attract a different audience than the usual Dead Prez fans.”

M-1 is a gunslinger, though. So Fabrizio Sotti, the Grammy-winning guitarist who co-produced the album, helped achieve a more diplomatic approach. Sotti got his longtime collaborator, jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and M-1 into the studio together, and Wilson agreed to sing “Love You Can’t Borrow” ‘s hook. M-1 admires her frankness. “Some people try to put on legend like a uniform; but her legend comes from inside her. She’s a real woman with a real voice,” M-1 observes. “It’s not nuthin’ played up; it ain’t ultra- glamorous. It’s just the realness.”

” ‘Til We Get There” and “Been Through” are also not dilutions, but part of a deliberate softening of delivery. Even the sparse breakbeats Dead Prez normally use, like those that remix D-Train’s “You’re the One for Me” in “The Beat,” are slowed just enough for grown folks from the old school to ride M-1’s freedom train “to the south BX/way cross 110th Street/before my daddy even thought about me.” And after that bit of reminiscing, the MC can slip in “better guard your grill or get Rodney King–beat” because he’s “been from braids to dreads and from dreads to fades.” “I’m finding creative ways to present all this revolutionary stuff,” he explains, “for the people who don’t really want to hear it.”

M-1 plays Nokia Theatre April 22.

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