Dead Prez Deliver Politically Charged Set

Rappers share observations on race during show Monday.

NEW YORK — The rappers who make up the politically charged Dead Prez blazed through a corrosive, 45-minute set Monday night at the tiny Manhattan club Don Hills.

Group member M-1 smiled as he shouted tributes to late Black Panthers leader Huey P. Newton and to Africa. The phrase "F--- the Police!" flashed across his white sweatshirt. At various points, images of Malcolm X, slain rapper the Notorious B.I.G., a slave ship, a jailed black man and fists giving the black-power sign appeared on a screen behind him and partner, dressed in denim with long dreadlocks. The two also briefly led the crowd in a chant of, "F--- Giuliani," a reference to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Yet, in what seemed just a partial joke, appeared dissatisfied with the set's vitriol as it wound to an end.

"I feel like we didn't dis the police enough," he told the crowd to roaring approval. With that, he and M-1 recited one verse of "Police State" (RealAudio excerpt), a somber protest song from Let's Get Free, Dead Prez's striking, occasionally shocking, acclaimed debut album, released March 14. Fans made like a Bon Jovi crowd and lit their lighters.

Giuliani is embroiled in controversy following shootings of unarmed black men by city police in the past year.

The show was Dead Prez's third in Manhattan in four days. They performed at the Culture Club, usually an '80s-retro dance spot, on Friday, and punk Mecca CBGB's on Saturday. Rapper Shabaam Sahdeeq introduced the group.

"If you black, you gotta have it. If you not black, you still gotta have it," said Sahdeeq, known for his contributions to the compilation Rawkus Presents Soundbombing II.

Dead Prez lean heavily toward the cerebral, toward political dialogue on race and the black condition — "African" (RealAudio excerpt) is a rallying cry for blacks in the Western Hemisphere to re-establish their roots. But M-1 and also proved Monday they know the value of a good anthem with an electrifying hook.

Dead Prez rocked as they performed "Hip Hop" (RealAudio excerpt) and its cousin, "It's Bigger Than Hip Hop." Several hundred fans erupted into chaotic leaping as the murky bassline on the former began.

The songs advance the group's belief that what you say is more important than how you say it. That didn't matter to the integrated audience, which acted as if DMX, known for his catchy hooks, stood before them. And and M-1 followed suit, and jumped, too.

Showing their range — or at least their ambition — the group performed "Be Healthy," which, between the radical calls for racial justice and the musical ignition, is a song about nutrition. Against a lush classical-guitar loop, the two espoused the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. A glass of water appeared on the screen.

"Theirs is one of the few records I could buy," said Phil Rust, 36, of Manhattan. "There's so much hip-hop put out by people with nothing to say."

Derek Perkinson, of Queens was similarly impressed.

"It's like Public Enemy. It's important that we have that," he said.

Local groups Stonghold, Moodswingas, the Ancients and Rise & Shine also performed Monday.