Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV's "Drink Champs," which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly "Drink Champs" episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
Last night, the latest episode of Drink Champs aired on REVOLT TV, with legendary Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli making his return and sitting down with Noreaga and DJ EFN for a few drinks. This time around, Kweli brings along rap group Dead Prez, who sent shock waves throughout the rap world with their militant-minded 2000 debut, Let's Get Free. That album, led by the classic single "Hip Hop," established Dead Prez as one of the more polarizing, albeit insightful, duos in the game and has served as the foundation upon which M-1 and stic.man have built their 20-year career. In addition to touching on the genesis of Dead Prez and their humble beginnings, the interview brings to the surface a myriad of other topics, including Kweli's introduction to the group, Kanye West, encounters with 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., and Prince, and what it means to be revolutionary but gangsta.
To help give the fans a recap of the conversation, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Talib Kweli and Dead Prez Episode of Drink Champs that the average fan never knew.
1 | Talib Kweli's issue with being labeled a "conscious" artist
As one of the artists to kick the door open for the indie-rap movement of the late '90s, Talib Kweli and many rhymers of his ilk were often labeled as "conscious" rappers by fans and media alike, a label that Kweli believes is more of a misconception than an accurate assessment. "We been dealing with this for a long time as artists," Kweli says. "Consciousness is awareness; if you're aware of what you're doing, you're conscious, you know. N.O.R.E has made records where that might not be considered conscious rap, but he's aware of what he's saying on those records. And I think with consciousness, in the marketing sense, it gets convoluted because ain't nothing wrong with being conscious. And [there are] a lot of artists that are conscious that are not getting the credit for it that do have those records on their albums. But hip hop is marketed in a way where sex sells, violence sells, gangsterism sells. Rapping about money and decadence sells, especially [for] the people that grew up and ain't have nothing. So [when] they use the term 'consciousness,' I think you see a pushback from artists like Dead Prez and myself. Not that we don't embrace the conscious nature, but the pushback as artists because the artist's nature is to not be boxed in."
2 | Dead Prez always intended to sign with Loud Records
Most rappers dream of merely getting picked up by any record label, but in the case of Dead Prez, they had their sights set on joining Steve Rifkind's Loud Records roster before the duo even moved to New York City. "That was our vision from Florida, that's what's crazy," shares stic.man. "We didn't have no connects, but we was like, there was the Wu [Tang] and Mobb [Deep that] was like the same vibe we was on and we just made a choice, 'We gonna go to New York and we'll see what it do.' But when we got to New York, I think we had like $900 hustled up. That was the label we sought, in Florida. And we went through meeting [with all these people]. We met Russell Simmons, different people. Russell was like, 'Y'all niggas too violent.'" M-1 also recalled the group's tenure on Loud and how it impacted their artistry, adding, "It was a beautiful time to be in that space, we grew from it a lot. We definitely knew what we wanted to do and where we wanted to be, but we didn't know how much it would change us to be around artists of that caliber and trying to make our music up to that standard. We were like, 'Aight, we gonna be here, we got something to say.' But then we got involved in the process and that really grew us up a lot as artists, really."
3 | What Talib Kweli believes was the reason for Rawkus Records' downfall
Rawkus Records was a giant in the independent rap scene during the late '90s and early aughts, with legendary artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, Company Flow and other acts calling the label home. However, after signing a joint venture deal with MCA Records, Rawkus would lose its footing in the industry, which, according to Talib Kweli, was due to the label heads' aspirations for commercial success. "I got a lot of love for Jarret [Myer] and Brian [Brater], but they didn't come from the culture," Kweli explains. "They came into it with a business plan, but being fans of the music, they had a vision. Their vision was they saw a hole in the marketplace for vinyl; that stuff was really bubbling, it had its own culture. Really El-P, who's now with Run The Jewels, he was kinda leading the charge on that and I feel like they kinda piggybacked on El-P's movement and helped it grow bigger; they brought bigger checks in. But I think that they got caught up. Like when Pharoahe Monch's record ["Simon Says"] dropped and Big Dawg Pitbulls was on it heavy, playing it on the radio, the mantra at Rawkus went from 'Independent As Fuck' to 'Let's Get These Records On The Radio.'" Kweli also reveals that the creative control afforded to the label's flagship artists was not given to other artists in the wake of the transition to MCA. "I remember the artists like me had free reign. Me, Mos, Company Flow, we were delivering records, the records we wanted to make. The next [wave], after Pharoahe blew up with 'Simon Says,' the artists on Rawkus didn't have that free reign anymore."
4 | Kanye West and Juicy J both produced remixes of Dead Prez's "Hip Hop"
Dead Prez's commercial success may have been marginal, however, the group managed to strike a chord among rap fans and peers alike with their 2000 single "Hip Hop," which would be popularized in part by comedian Dave Chappelle using it as the theme song for his legendary sketch comedy show, Chappelle's Show. However, what many people don't know is that the song was also remixed by a number of A-list producers, with a young Kanye West and Juicy J being among them. "Through Sean C, who was working with artists who were working with Roc-A-Fella Records, they're like, 'We got 'Hip Hop,' but we wanna make a remix," M-1 shares. "So they went and got all of these producers and, lo and behold, they brought Kanye [West]. So Kanye West came to the studio and we made a remix of 'Hip Hop,' which is on Let's Get Free, it's called 'Bigger Than Hip Hop.'" While Kanye's remix of "Hip Hop" was released for mass consumption, the same can't be said for Juicy J's version, which M-1 notes went unreleased. "I gotta say, all these producers was moved by that sound. Juicy J made a remix for 'Hip Hop,' we ain't even use it."
5 | Talib Kweli feels Kanye West is politically misinformed
Having guested on each others albums and toured together over the years, Kweli is one of Kanye West's closest friends in the rap game. However, Kweli had a few barbed words for Yeezy during his conversation on Drink Champs. "I think that he's severely misinformed," Kweli says in reference to Kanye's political rhetoric. "I think he's not reading. I think, based on my conversations with him, spanning from 15 years ago to two months ago, that he doesn't know politics. He don't know history, he don't know. And I think when it comes to his career as an entertainer, he's been so brilliant, he's been so successful that everything he's done has been correct." Furthermore, Kweli also pointed to Kanye's alleged envy of Drake's success and popularity as part of his erratic statements and behavior. "I was working on a record; me and Kanye had a record with like five songs together," Kweli reveals. "He says to me in the studio how living in Calabasas while Drake was there was hard on him because he felt the competitive energy. And how when Drake moved away, he had this creative rush which, to me, I'm like, 'How you let this next man affect your energy?' This is something I felt, but didn't speak on at the time. Now I see how the year's played out and I feel like a lot of what he's doing...Kanye wants to be No. 1. He wants to be talked about all the time and he spent all of last year talking about how dope Drake was in every interview, 'Drake's the No. 1 rapper, Drake's the No. 1 rapper.' I feel like he's triggered by Drake. I feel he's triggered by Obama calling him a jackass and I feel he just wants to be liked and he's misinformed."
6 | Stic.Man thinks JAY-Z is revolutionary, but gangsta
Dead Prez's longtime mantra has been 'Revolutionary, But Gangsta,' a sentiment that has come to define everything the duo stands for. During the duo's appearance on Drink Champs, stic.man spoke about how the spirit of revolution has evolved within the rap community. "[There] was a time in hip hop culture where it was all about the art, all about the culture," stic.man explains. "And we pride ourselves on that; we mastered our craft and made that work in the world, but we wasn't on top of the business. So then, the flip side, brothers started getting hip to the business, owning the masters, whoopty-whoop, teaching each other through the culture, and then we started focusing on that—without focusing on the culture though. And then it was all about the money and we still playing ying-yang instead of the woke folks getting the money. Or some rich folks getting some consciousness—'cause you need both. You gotta have some sense and some values, but you gotta have some power and some bread to make certain things happen. So we been learning this as a culture, individuals learned it from there communities, like, a JAY-Z's pedigree was 'get money.' He learned that from his circle, but how many people did JAY-Z teach through his actions? Whether you call him conscious or not, he empowered people with his actions. And then how many people done dropped all of the weight of the planet earth and how far it is from the sun with no business, with nothing in place? Not taking care of their kids, you know what I mean? So it's not about what you say on the mic or how much you got in your bank account, it's why are you in the position you're in and what are you doing with it? That's revolutionary, but gangsta, you know what I mean? Control your shit."
7 | Dead Prez were supposed to record a song with Prince
For any artist in any genre, getting the opportunity to be in the presence of Prince is a landmark moment in their career, and while the average fan wouldn't associate the two, Dead Prez was lucky enough to have their own encounter with The Purple One. According to M-1, Prince even asked the group to collaborate on a song with him prior to his death. "We spoke about it right there and it was a record called 'Dear Mr. President,'" M-1 recalls. "It doesn't exist, but I regret that it doesn't exist because it could exist. We could've followed up and we could've made it happen. And he was very clear about what it was he wanted from us." However, Prince apparently had a few stipulations if the collaboration were to ever go down. "First of all, he's like, 'I'm a Jehovah's Witness, I don't want you to curse on the record,' which is ill because I came up to a nasty [version of] Prince," M-1 remembers. "So it was like, 'Wow, okay, he wants us to do a song about 'Dear Mr. President,' but he don't want us to curse,' but he said, 'I don't want you to be soft. I like Common, but I like y'all because [of] what y'all do, so I want y'all to do that. Give me Dead Prez, don't give me Common. He was like 'be raw' and he was specific about that."
8 | Talib Kweli once smoked blunt with Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.
Speaking of bucket-list moments, Talib Kweli got to kill two birds with one stone when he sparked up blunts with two rap icons at a NYC venue during the mid-90s. "I met Tupac," Kweli reveals. "I smoked a blunt with Tupac, John Forte and C-Knowledge (Doddlebug) from Digable Planets at the Country Club." If that wasn't enough to make a legendary cipher, Kweli then clarified that The Notorious B.I.G. also happened to be in the rotation. "Tupac and Biggie [was there]. And you know the poet Sarah Jones? She was there, too. This is one night. Jessica Rosenblum had a party at Country Club and I think maybe [DJ] Enuff or [Funk] Flex was DJing and Tupac was performing and Big showed up, or Big was performing and Pac showed up, I don't remember which."
9 | The inspiration behind RBG Fit Club
Health has been a trendy topic in hip hop in recent years, with a plethora of rap artists and other figures in the community promoting wellness. Stic.Man is among those joining the fight with RBG Fit Club, which he says came to life following his own bout with medical issues. "What it basically is, is about 12-15 years ago, [I] woke up in Brooklyn with gout in my leg from being a drink champ and smoked out all the time and I decided to clean out," stic.man reveals. "Nine years sober, no weed, no alcohol and just changed my life. And I started studying martial arts and yoga and running and became a long-distance running coach, marathon, all that shit and I didn't know the physical training was gonna take me somewhere different, just in optimism. I had a lot of pessimism with just being in the struggle, people on crack in my life and all that, and when I seen just through training and being focused how it made a difference for me, I wanted that for other people. So we created RBG Fit Club for that to be a platform. It's based in five principals: knowledge, nutrition, exercise, rest and consistency. And my wife is a nutritionist, so that's how I got rid of gout, naturally. So RBG Fit Club, we say healthy is the new gangsta and we go hard on that and it's just about inspiring people for healthy living."
Watch Drink Champs with Talib Kweli & Dead Prez below!
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