M-1 is one half of the duo Dead Prez. I got to recently interview him about his work in the community and learn some interesting stories about Dead Prez’s early career and M-1’s community involvement. An emcee who has deep roots in the community and fought for issues such as prison reform and human rights. One can’t help but be impressed with how well-studied he is on politics and current global issues. A gifted emcee who has dropped one solo album in addition to the numerous works he has done with Dead Prez.
I did an interview with you partner Stic.man a few days ago and he said you guys met at FAMU, what were you studying at Florida A&M University?
It’s so interesting when I began I really didn’t know a direction. I didn’t go to college like with the assumption that I was like gonna get a degree in something cause I hadn’t prepped that far ahead, in a way I was kind of winging it and really to the point that, and the back story to that is like history but like my family, in that moment at FAMU when I arrived I really took classes based on honestly what my roommates was doing because I felt like I had to follow a direction of where I studied and I asked the person next to me and he was like I’m gonna be in the business department and I ended up in the school of business and industry, I think its called SBI and it was like one of the most profound departments at FAMU, I did that man really to be honest for a like a few classes like, maybe two semesters or something, really like one semester and a half, and before that I was gone…I was already so far linked into the community in Tallahassee which is where I met Stic. I thought I was gonna be more like a business student because my homeboy who I still know today, just because he decided to be in the business school.
I also asked him (Stic.man) as well about growing up in an age where internet wasn’t the information highway as it is now, who do you credit as far as some of the individuals who put you on to knowledge of self and Pan Africanism?
Well, I would have to credit my community in general or lack of community in general for what I did and did not know. In reality I was just kind of coasting along, I was gathering tidbits here and there but I didn’t have a certain direction, it’s not like I came to knowledge of self that much inside my home, my parents were smart, my brother was a teacher but when you talk about Pan Africanism and even the extent of Africa in itself I really didn’t come into that reality into much later in my development. I encountered jewels I used like the nation of Gods and earths or the so called Five Percent Nation and the teachings of Clarence 13x which I distinguished different than the Nation of Islam. For the hood that’s how you kind of get it, at least where the knowledge starts and I give thanks to all the master teachers, in the home my mom taught me to be open minded and she became a Buddhist which was kind of interesting to me and I was really coasting along as a young youth. In a definite way besides from my Five Percent upbringing which was in general a direction but not specific with detail but was filled with pieces of the political education that I needed and that came when I encountered the Uhuru movement which was based in St. Petersburg, Fl and whose leader was Omali Yeshitela and a lot of things became much more clear in the scope of the full landscape of history and power and struggle and where we belong and fit as African people in this place.
Stic.man alluded to you guys getting involved in activism and realizing the impact you could have as emcees, could you speak about some of your early activism work?
When I met Stic we were more interested in becoming community activists. We felt the power was in the position of being a person who enlightens, who organizes, and agitates and makes real community change which is still true today. However, there are factors and so when we met we were emulating Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panthers in Oakland. We were emulating their platform and had to develop one of our own and running through Tallahassee and me I had just escaped from the campus, I don’t even think I lived on the campus anymore in Tallahassee but I represented New York in all things and we started organizing and liking the political information we were into reading about the Panthers and listening to Last Poets. He also worked at a bookstore and it was a wealth and fountain of important books by amazing authors like Dr. France Cress Wesling, Lerone Bennett, and we would see these authors and read these books and it was the kind of environment that cultivated activism in me and Stic, we wanted to do something. He was already an emcee but I wasn’t a serious emcee I was just of hip hop. I do everything, I was a former emcee, I was a graffiti writer, breakdancer, and deejay and was active in that whole culture on campus and everywhere it was active and that’s how we met through the Uhuru movement that was the nearest thing that had some legacy. We learned a myriad of understanding of African revolution. I went to Chicago, Il and organized there under the legacy of Fred Hampton and lived in the Fred Hampton house, and organized for four years on the south side and organized prison campaigns, local campaigns, and all kind of things. The story goes on and on, but just before we begin to do serious Dead Prez that’s what we were doing.
Who were some of your early musical influences as far as being an emcee and what albums were you listening to prior to recording Lets Get Free?
My history with music which is similar to Stic but of course from a different angle because I know Brooklyn, NY, I know North Carolina, and I came to Tallahassee so I was influenced by the gods and earths so I was bumping Brand Nubian, a lot of Big Daddy Kane as a deejay I played it all Tribe Called Quest, Deftronics, Defsonics, hip hop at its core. Thats the core of what hip hop is Rakim to KRS. When I met Stic, Brand Nubian was poppin, Onyx was out, Gang Starr was cracking, I really miss Gang Starr a lot, this was when I was emceeing and freestyling on the campus and then we kind of teamed up. This is the environment we organized for power inside listening to that kind of music and when me and Stic got together and vibed we listened to Last Poets, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, Wise Prophets and me and Stic would get together and play records and talk about political theories that’s what we were listening to. Malcolm X records, listening to Malcom X talk. It wasn’t about the music we were organizing. And we went through a lot of life when we were listening to that music. Like I said, I went from Chicago back to Tallahassee from Tallahassee to Chicago and came back to Tallahassee where me and Stic reunited and we talking about a span of four years and when we met from 1990-1994 we were organizing our lives going thru shit, Stic had caught a case in Tallahassee, I was in Chicago we was moving around but we were still in contact and we were still growing as brothers and made the decision to grow together, we gonna figure this shit out together and we did take the journey and ended up together and by the time 1994-95 hit we were listening to Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, Big had just dropped Ready to Die, and we were making serious demos at that point and decided that the music was the best way to do it instead of trying to organize in the streets. We were really dedicated to studio life, Stic has always been dedicated to studio life. His story is way different from mine because as a recording artist he began really young as a recording artist, he was way developed when I met him and as a producer and studio artist that’s when he was in the street getting it with his cousins on the south side of Tallahassee but he definitely knew his music. Me, I was a deejay, I was about the culture. I knew how to rap but hadn’t dedicated myself until around that time.
What do you recall most about recording Let’s Get Free?
That it was real. That it’s not really an album but more a slice of our life but also like in a sense a last will and testament, we lived all of are life not knowing if there was going to be a tomorrow. So we knew we had been recording music, one thing about Stic he knew we had to dedicate ourselves to making music the weapon we were going to use to change the world, we were still dedicated to being revolutionaries we were just like alright we just gone do it with music, but we gone fool em’ we gone make some hot shit and we gone put a message in it and we gone stand with it and I was like word, and I knew how to do it I understood the culture and he understood the actual technical beat making process and the song structure process, not really structure but just getting out the feeling of the music and I would write my verse and watch him make beats and sometimes contribute and I would come in with samples and give directions to arrangement and add that element of New York. And we mixed all that together on the south side of Tallahassee and that stuff became the basis of what Let’s Get Free is. We made 100s of songs before we arrived in New York and we had to struggle before we got the deal. After we got the deal we were in the studio recording an album, we didn’t have no title. We just were making an album. We had got signed off these songs and a record label liked us. And we drew inspirations from the demos we had made in Tallahassee and were in Brooklyn because that’s what I knew and Stic learned Brooklyn from me.
You first solo project was called Confidential where you have some great guest appearances such as Styes P and Ghostface, how did you decide to include them on your solo project and could you speak a little bit about some of the process behind creating the album? Also did you feel any pressure to make a project similar to that of your work with Dead Prez?
Yeah, man let me tell you with Confidential I had the opportunity to record and we were at a transition as artists as Dead Prez, meaning we had gone through some experiences in New York which had led us to different paths. Stic had moved to Atlanta and prior to that we had lived with each other in close quarters for many years but after Let’s Get Free we were able to expand and understand life and have relationships and start a family. When all of that happened, and that came into me making Confidential because we had made Let’s Get Free and made a lot of stuff, street records, RBG, we had gone through industry stuff and we had even had issues with record labels so we weren’t happy with the process of the business. Whatever the case that leads to Confidential because I believe at that point people knew Dead Prez, you might not know M-1 but people knew Dead Prez because at that point we hadn’t established ourself separately. Stic had in a way, but I wanted to be creative so I did and I had an opportunity to create. You spoke of me using people like Ghostface on the album, we had been in New York and made a lot of great relationships and hadn’t had the opportunity to work with them officially on a record. We had worked with the Marley’s as Dead Prez and we had become friends of the family, and worked with Erykha Badu, and Bone. As an artist I hooked up with everybody I wanted to work with and hadn’t had the chance to and I didn’t know that Confidential was going to be an album or what is was going to be. I worked with Ghostface, producers like Agallah, Styles P, and Q-Tip who I always wanted to work with and always felt like as Dead Prez we should have collaborated with Tribe Called Quest and could of done it but life was happening.
You guys were involved in the Nas ghostwriting controversy, what do you think about using ghostwriters?
If somebody could write for me, I would definitely say it, all day. I’m a team player. I’ve said it before it I know how to be a leader and a follower. I know how to be a leader but I know also how to play my role. I know that from learning music. Music has been one of the greatest laboratories for creation that I could have encountered.
Jim Brown and Kanye West recently met with President elect Donald Trump and both have taken a lot of criticism, would you be willing to meet with the newly elected President Donald Trump?
Yes I would take a meeting with the newly elected President Donald Trump under my terms. He would have to meet with the representatives of a coalition of people who stand for things that Donald Trump has not supported and we could talk in open dialogue in a honest way we could definitely have a conversation. Other than that I feel Donald Trump is a representation of imperialism, he is no surprise to me and makes sense in the scope of what imperialism wants, he is no surprise to me and is actually what I thought would happen.
You did an interview with Fox news after the Imus controversy how did that interview come about? Do you wish you Stic.man had came with you on that Foz News interview or were you happy with the results?
Thats a hard one to call. You can’t outfox the fox (laughs). Am I satisfied with the outcome of it? I don’t think I was made to look like a fool at all. I think if I had bought Stic with me I don’t think he would have recognized who Dead Prez was. I think he (Cavuto) was just ignorant and I knew what I was getting myself into. He clearly wasn’t familiar with our music or our lyrics. I was clear on that, just to deflect it in that moment when its live. I learned a lot in that moment as a media analyst and social scientist. It was what it was.
You did a documentary with political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, how did that come about? What are some of the insights you gained from that experience?
Mumia Abu Jamal is my teacher, he’s a mentor and one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever met. I met him honestly, I just wanted to sit down with him and say whats up because I had the opportunity to and because I knew his family and because I had become familiar with his life in Philadelphia especially someone who had joined a movement to fight for political prisoners like him. That’s how I came in contact with Mumia through the first position in Uhru movement when I went to Philadelphia to organize before we had became Dead Prez, this was in that early stage, that’s how I became aware who Mumia was in my life so when I got an opportunity to meet him and we sat and became friends and became someone I respect, look after and would do anything for and had many conversations some of which I recorded and gave me some music and some of that I’m recording. Someone asked me to be in the documentary because they knew we were friends and that documentary is called “Long Distance Revolutionary” and I learned a lot from him. I’m someone who understands the prison industrial complex from the point of view of an opponent and I’ve seen it this way most of my life. Not just because my mother was victimized by the state and did fourteen years in federal prison but I have a more objective political relationship with the state and I feel these brothers and sisters are kings and queens and their relationship to the state has to be correctly seen and I think it will be, I think things are coming to light that are going to help Mumia’s case, hopefully before he passes away but justice is going to still be the same way.
Have you ever been targeted by the FBI because of your political involvement?
Yes. I definitely know it has happened. It doesn’t worry me. It’s people investigated by the federal government who aren’t even politically active. We all know that and all this comes out through the Freedom of Information Act. I have been involved with some of the most highly influential human beings in history. I know because I’ve put in that work and continue to do so. We have to build a real movement to make sense out of whatever that means. That entity who is watching who does what, the bottom line we can’t do nothing about it. At the end of the day I want to change that.
A lot of artists actively campaigned for Presidential candidates in the recent election, what are your feelings about artists being part of the establishment as opposed to challenging it?
I think that attitude if you can’t beat them join them is a suckka attitude. I think these fools who because its a political play are exactly whats called the petite bourgeoisie its not cool, and the petite bourgeoisie isn’t defined by money, you can be a billionaire and have a petite bourgeoisie attitude because the ruling class is going to have longer money than that. All these guys who wanna get down cause the power is in Trumps hands or have a meeting cause Trump has power, at the end of the day the systems corrupt. You can’t join with it because you feel like you have no other options. At the end of the day we have to stick to our guns even if our political opinions are unpopular.
Do you feel the Obama presidency has been good for African Americans?
I feel the Obama presidency has been just as oppressive for African Americans as the George W. Bush’s presidency. The prison industrial complex continues to grow and did not decrease under Obama. In fact the biggest transfer of wealth from the African community happened under the hands of the Obama administration. I think the damage that Barack Obama has done isn’t even something we can calculate yet and Trump is just a diversion for the real play.
Do you have any regrets or just things you would have done differently with what you know now?
Yeah, a lot of things. Hindsight is 20/20. I don’t know if Lets Get Free would of got made. If I could of took that 100k equity and put it into something that could of grew exponentially to be a world power.
Stic.man spoke about you living in different cities, how long has that been the case and when will you guy’s record the next Dead Prez project?
He lives in Atlanta and I live in Miami primarily and Dallas and I’m here because I have children. Are lives are really different which is cool. It’s been that way for fifteen years. We both lived in New York for ten years. The next album were working on it, we got some ideas.
Stic.man also told me you were doing some great things with the music and activism what are some of those things?
I got a new album out which is a result of my Italy connection. The music has been changing and I’ve been getting a lot of television and film placements. I’ve developed a company J Love & M-1 productions with my partner J Love Calderon who is a filmmaker and life coach. We have developed a mechanism that can really do conscious content from storytelling to art.