This past March, by the time Ghostface Killah took the stage at Berbati's; he was already blown out of the water. As a support act on the Fishscale tour—a thankless job which at best you're just killing time before Ghostface decides to hit the stage—M-1 wowed the crowd with a potent mix of new solo songs and old material. The Dead Prez emcee (who along with Stic.Man, make up the Brooklyn-via-Florida duo) performed the impossible task of usurping the glory from the most talented member of the Wu, which he did with a casual and humble ease.
The initial impact of Dead Prez was huge, as their first album, Lets Get Free, made an impact far beyond the rigid walls of late-'90s hiphop. Dead Prez didn't wear their political hiphop influences on their sleeves; instead they balled up a fist and hung it high in the air. But in a pre-Bush/pre-Katrina hiphop world, where was the casual hiphop fan going to find some well-placed social rage, not to mention songs about veganism and respecting women? They were as important as Public Enemy, but with the co-op merch table politics of an Ebullition-era hardcore punk band. Bandanas or hoodies, it didn't matter, because with Dead Prez the act of smashing the state never sounded so good.
Their lackluster RGB was a record whose hit-and-miss songs suffered even more so while in the clumsy, inept hands of yet another major label unsure of how to market a duo whose militant rhymes could never be sugarcoated enough to please TRL or hiphop radio. Dead Prez was a grenade with the pin pulled, and no matter how powerful the result of their music could be, no one could handle them correctly. As the group dropped off the map, only resurfacing for the occasional live show, and began to prepare for the obligatory hiphop ritual of post-hiatus solo albums, it became clear that Dead Prez's best days were behind them.
But of course, no one told M-1 that. Confidential opens with the slow-burning soul of "One Side (The Anthem)," a short track that makes a huge impression with the short blast of the lyrics, "I never want to be without my pistol, baby/Because it's lynching time/It's time to live/It's time to die." While the rest of the album fires more verbal bullets, plus a fair share of positive dialogue, it never strays far from the dark shadow of Dead Prez's intelli-thug past. Beyond that, Confidential is a love note to the potential of African American communities, as seen in the album's single, and lone video, "'Til We Get There." The video finds M-1 addressing an inner-school classroom, show-and-tell style, playing the role of both emcee and teacher to a class of wide-eyed kids. It's an inspiring scene, especially with the song's positive lyrics of "I took a page from the book of Martin Luther/And decided that it's better to hug you than to shoot you/I'm sorry homie, if it's not what you're use to/But the way that we living these black lives is beautiful." Throw in a fantastic Ghostface cameo in "Been Through," and the cutesy charm of "Gunslinger," and you have a rare instance of a solo album not just eclipsing expectations, but also unexpectedly becoming the best hiphop album of the year.
Sorry Ghostface, it's nothing personal.