Let’s Get Free
Loud Records/Columbia Records, 2000
When the first track on a record is that of Omali Yeshitela giving a speech comparing a hunting technique that lures wolves to suicide to the War on Drugs and crack in the black community, then it’s got to be one of the greatest politically conscious hip-hop albums of all time. Sure, I’m taking the intro and assessing it as the whole album, but the slow stomping “Wolves” sets the bar for everything to follow.
Let’s Get Free is filled with so many varying themes and ideologies revolving around political justice that it may come off too aggressively, but that’s the brilliance behind this record; without the hard-hitting feel, the lyrical tirades and eerie sampling, Let’s Get Free doesn’t have the same effect. “Police State” is haunting to the bone, but matched with the bars from stic.man and M-1, it turns into a triumphant revolution against the restrictions Black America is burdened with. The hook brings it all together:
The average Black male
Live a third of his life in a jail cell
Cause the world is controlled by the white male
And the people don’t never get justice
And the women don’t never get respected
And the problems don’t never get solved
And the jobs don’ never pay enough
So the rent always be late
Can you relate?
We living in a police state
On “Animal in Man”, dead prez presses with comparisons to George Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm.
“Hannibal spoke for several hours/ But when talks about his plans for power/ That’s when the conversation turned sour/ He issued an offical ordinance to set/ If not a pig from this day forth then you insubordinate.”
Sprawled all over Let’s Get Free are examples of these themes, and dead prez is starting a revolution.
On “Propaganda”, one of more eye-opening songs on the album, the first verse and ensuing chorus strike gold.
You can’t fool all the people all of the time
But if you fool the right ones, then the rest will fall behind
Tell me who’s got control of your mind? your world view?
Is it the news or the movie you’re taking your girl to?
Know what I’m saying cause Uncle Sam got a plan
If you examine what they telling us then you will understand
What they planting in the seeds of the next generation
Feeding our children miseducation
No one knows if there’s UFOs or any life on mars
Or what they do when they up in the stars
Because I don’t believe a word of what the president said
He filling our head with lies got us hypnotized
When he be speaking in code words about crime and poverty
Drugs, welfare, prisons, guns and robbery
It really means us, there’s no excuse for the slander
But what’s good for the goose, is still good for the gander
I don’t believe Bob Marley died from cancer
31 years ago I would’ve been a panther
They killed Huey cause they knew he had the answer
The views that you see in the news is propaganda
Not all songs on Let’s Get Free are hard-hitting however. “Mind Sex” tells us that we should get to know our lover’s and appreciate both the mind and body (“See, I ain’t got to get in your blouse/ It’s your eye contact that be getting me aroused/ When you show me your mind, it make me wanna show you mines“), and “Be Healthy” talks about eating natural foods and getting regular excercise (“No fish though, no candy bars, no cigarettes/ Only ganja and fresh-squeezed juice from oranges/ Exercising daily to stay healthy/ And I rarely drink water out the tap, cause it’s filthy“).
Let’s Get Free calls for black liberation, respect for significant others and respect for one’s self. It’s a natural tonic of truth, and it’s a vibrant look into the harsh realities of this world. What Let’s Get Free does perfectly is raise awareness and spread truth, and that is why it’s one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time.
From Woodie Guthrie to Aretha Franklin to Rage Against the Machine, the importance of art, in this case music, as a catalyst for revolution can’t be understated. Music is important because it allows the musician to share their perspective with the audience. In turn, the audience is able to reflect on the message and story that is being told. In this way, music can be incredibly powerful. With it’s emphasis on socialism, black power, health and poverty, Let’s Get Free, the seminal work from Dead Prez, is thoughtful, intelligent, aggressive and enlightening. Thirteen years later, its relevance to the way people live is as strong as it’s ever been. Released in 2000, Let’s Get Free is more than just a hip-hop album, it is a chance to educate yourself on how the world works and what it would take to change it for the better.
In my mind, this record works so well because of how M-1 and stic.man speak on all the different, but necessary components to living a full, healthy life that is directly in resistance to the dominant, western ways of knowing. There are songs such as “I’m a African,” “They Schools,” “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop,” “We Want Freedom,” “Animal In Man” and “Propaganda” that are about the inherently racist school system, the power of community and that there is nothing wrong with being proud of who you are, and where you’re from. To go along with that, tracks such as “Mind Sex,” “Be Healthy,” “Discipline,” and “Happiness” suggest that the way to live a revolutionary lifestyle begins with eating healthy, respecting your significant other, setting goals for yourself and taking time to appreciate the good in life. The message of how to live a life of resistance embedded within this record is powerful and more importantly, educational. I say this because I have seen it happen.
I have been fortunate enough to be part of a program that works with young African-American males from Detroit. They come to Michigan State on Saturdays and the goal is to expose them to a college campus while engaging them in activities and topics that are relevant to their lives. On one of the days, we printed out the lyrics and played them “Propaganda.” I can remember their faces as they took in the reflective lyrics, the moving sounds and the disturbing images that flashed before the screen. Some of them nodded their heads to the beat with their eyes closed while others stared at the words intently, deciphering the message. After, we had a discussion about the content of the song and how they interpreted it. Some of the most powerful thoughts and questions came out of this discussion. We talked about things such as war, violence, Bob Marley and what the Black Panthers were about. I distinctly remember one of the boys asking, “Why do we go to war?” That question has stuck with me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever truly know the answer.
The insight that these boys knew about life was incredible. These are amazingly talented young individuals that are full of passion, creativity and curiosity and this was illustrated and all this was revealed from only one song on Let’s Get Free. Can you imagine the power that a curriculum based on this record would be? Let’s Get Free is much more than an album, it is education and it is a way to live one’s life to the fullest, in resistance to the hegemonic forces that continually put people down. Let’s Get Free serves as an example of how me might overcome these oppressive instances in our communities through action, reflection and being proud of where you’re from.