Last Thursday, we got the opportunity to meet up with M1 of Dead Prez, Bonnot, and Irie Child. We discussed their recent collaboration on their song “Open,” a fusion of reggae and hip hop. Here is what transpired during that conversation:
Q: You have a new song out now called, “Open”. What inspired the collaboration?
M1: Our Love for Reggae.
Bonnot: I joined the team because I do reggae since I was a child. I really love music but what is special in Reggae is that it is played a lot of parts in our communities. I am talking about political involvement in our communities, social centers, and the movement. So the music has got a message. It’s why I am working with [M1]. If not for him, I hated the United States of America, for real. I was looking for wise people with big knowledge and big experiences, so people like Dead Prez were the best for that. Also, the movements they are a part of like the Black Panthers are inspiring to the movement of the people where I come from. So at that point, Reggae was so natural because it was music that contained this message. Nowadays one of the best ten sound systems in the world is named Heavy Armour Sound: from Italy. I joined this team-this sound system-because they were at the top of the game. However, they never had a producer. They never talked about producing the rhythms. We link up and I said, “I can produce for you. Let’s join forces and make it huge”.
Monty: Who are some of your Reggae influences?
Bonnot: As a singer, I can tell you, Barrington Levy. I can tell you the Marleys. Bob and many of the other Marleys. As production, of course, the legendary Lee Scratch Perry, but also people from Jamaica and the U.K.
Irie: Well, for me I will start off with my bloodline which is Tenor Saw and Professor Grizzly. As a high standpoint, just of all time, I would say Dennis Brown. Also, it goes without question: Ragga Marley, Stephen Marley. As far as the song, inspiration for my verse can definitely be derived from the original song on the album Between Me and The World. Just studying that and at the same time listening to brethren like Jesse Royal, Chronixx, & Protoje. Those are influences heavily present in the reggae industry now.
Monty: Did this wave of mixing Hip Hop and Caribbean sound inspire this song?
M1: No not at all. Bonnot has been a producer and musician inside reggae bands creating reggae music. Following Dead Presidents history, we were influenced so much by artists like Sizzla and Anthony B, Jah Mason, Jah Cure. This was at a time when the reggae music in Brooklyn was mixing in with street culture. We made songs like “Be Healthy” and were connecting with Stephen Marley and Ghetto Youth Crew who were making songs 15 years ago for Damien’s albums. We worked with Stephen continually before today.
It’s great to see Maroon 5 and Future make a song that sounds kind of reggae tinted. It’s great to hear Kranium take over Ed Sheeran’s song and make it sound better than Ed Sheeran. It’s amazing because it crosses the genres, mixes and mashes it up. At the same time, it definitely goes back to the root of an African drum or drop that is associated with reggae music. I say that so you can hear it clearly. It’s African. Everything in Jamaica is African but more associated with reggae music. Reggaeton is reggae. Moombahton is an Indian form of reggae.
Monty:16 years ago, you released your first album. You’ve always made conscious hip hop music, how has that evolution been over time?
M1: There was a time where it wasn’t as popular to make those statements. One of my favorite artists of all time, may he rest in freedom, is Tupac Shakur. People now idolize Tupac in a way that’s like everything Tupac did they slap it on the wall and say this is my idol. But to be quite clear, with Tupac, it was his association with the Black Panther Party, his stances that made me love him. I’m talking about 2pacalypse Now, Strictly for my N****s, and the rest of those jams that were for street soldiers. I remember a time in my life, when Tupac was alive, where he started to make music that was other than speaking for our community. He was wearing Versace. He was hanging around with a different crowd, and I honestly hated that music. I didn’t even buy those albums. People won’t admit that now. People will act like everything he touched was gold. I think the most powerful music in the world is related to our people’s vibration. That’s the reason why I love Bob. I love Peter Tosh even more than Bob – that’s my own preference. They made music that resonates, and not with just a revolutionary message but a message that resonates with where our people are going. It can be something that ushers forward an issue that’s important to our people. That changes the vibration of music and raises it to another level.
Q: I heard you politically charged song Police State, Do you feel that in 2017 we are still living in a police state?
M1: We are even more militarized, closed in, and have fewer rights. There is more abrogation and brutality than we experienced then. The instances of police brutality that raised people’s consciousness. 1992 was the rebellion, 1991 was Rodney King. There was a long stint of police brutality. That was the first time that getting the police kicking our a** on camera was a tool. That’s when cameras were used as a defense mechanism for us. Those cops, yeah they weren’t fired and they didn’t go to jail, but they saw [they] can’t get away with this in the dark anymore like [they] used to. The next time that happened was in Brooklyn. A guy named Abner Louima. Today, it’s normalized. The police state has become a constant instead of an uncomfortable situation. I’m glad we made that song. There are some songs on the album “Let’s Get Free,” that if I sing today, I actually wouldn’t want to change the lyrics.
Q: What do you think it is going to take to change things around?
M1: Well, true change is the transfer of power from the ruling class into the hands of the people. From the few into the hands of the many. When I say “transfer of power:, I mean power over our lives. The power to decide how we want to live. Because right now, the white world lives at the expense of everyone else in the world.
Q: What do you suggest a young person do in order to get past the chaos that may come up in their life. It can be hard to see the other side when you’re trying to make sense of the world that you are living in.
Irie: Do what you love and do not stop. Do not stop regardless of who says what. No matter how much you care about them or look up to them, you know what feels good to you because you can feel it. Don’t let anything alter you, unless you can feel that it is coming from a genuine place.
Q: How did your song get selected as the theme song for the legendary The Chappelle Show?
M1: Dave Chappelle is a great hip hop lover. We were on tour running through the nation with The Roots, they asked us to come on tour with them. And Dave Chappelle loved The Roots and everybody The Roots ran with. I think we were somewhere in Massachusetts and we were playing our final shows. [Dave] said, “Man, I’m about to do a television show.” At that point, he had no television show. He was an actor. He was definitely our homie who we smoked a lot of weed with. He was known for smoking weed because of Half Baked. So we were smoking and he said: “yo I’m going to do a show, and I want to use your song.” I said, “Alright, whatever.” It was light, believe me. But literally a week later he called us. We signed the paperwork with no misgivings about what it was or even no idea about how it would be. Ultimately, it was probably the greatest asset for the song It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop because it brought it to homes across America and ears that would have never heard it otherwise. I give thanks to him for that platform… look at where we are today.