Monday, April 4, 2011

Dead Prez Red Tape

Unlike Raekwon's famous purple tape, Dead Prez's red tape isn't literally red. It's black. But it comes in a red cassingle-style slip cover. But our personal disappointment about the plastic's color aside, this tape is famous because it's vintage, 90's Dead Prez music on LOUD Records that's practically unreleased, And it's some of their absolute best.

I think this is rare not because LOUD was stingy with giving these out at the time, but because it looks like a generic snippets tape. This was put out promotionally before Dead Prez's debut album on LOUD, and it's labeled as "These Are the Times" Sampler. So most people probably chucked their copies in the same fire we all chucked our boring snippet tapes of upcoming albums. Except the songs on this tape weren't snippets, and they didn't wind up being included on the album or anywhere else.

There's not a lot of info on this tape. There's no year (though I'd place it at roughly '98), no track-listing and no production credits (though they often produced all their own stuff, so their may be no other credits to share). There is, however, a prominently placed quote from Bruce Lee written on the back, which reads:

"Truth has no path. Truth is living and, therefore, changing. It has no resting place, no form, no organized institution, no philosophy. When you see that, you will understand that this living thing is also what you are."

And "Happiness" must've already been doing the mixtape and/or radio circuit when this tape was put out, because there's a final note on the back telling us that this tape, "includes 'Happiness'." In total, it includes three songs, with skits in between.

So first let's talk about "Happiness." Yes, "Happiness" did wind up on their album. But it had some odd, kinda wack drums on it (a problem I had with a few other Dead Prez songs as well). But here, it's got some more traditional, boom bap drums that sound a lot better. The rest of the song is the same as on the album, the only difference is the drums. And this is the only song on the tape that actually saw a proper release, as it was featured as a B-side to their single, "Mind Sex," where it was labeled, "Happiness (Red Tape Version)."

The second song is a little rarer, as it never really received a proper, official release... but it did reappear in a few forms. It's called "Food, Clothes and Shelter." Besides this tape, it was included on a more general LOUD Records promo tape called, The Set Up. And it was also bootlegged onto vinyl on Archive Inc's Loud Unreleased vol. 1 and a bootleg vinyl EP of The Set Up. But there's no option which isn't an obscure promo item or a bootleg, which is a shame, because it's killer. It's got a really moody, downright touching beat that fits right alongside the best of anything on LOUD Records, and some deep, moving lyrics, topped off with a few well-used samples of Denzel Washington as Malcolm X from X.

[They even made a sequel, "Food, Clothes + Shelter pt. 2," on their 2002 mix, Turn Off the Radio: The Mixtape, volume 1. It probably had a lot of confused fans scratching their heads, wondering, "how is there no part 1 of this song or part 2 of this mixtape?"]

Lastly, there's the title track, "These Are the Times," which I don't believe has been released in any other shape or form, not even bootlegs. And it's another killer. A hard, but seductive beat like classic Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep (who, not quite coincidentally, were all label-mates at he time) and immediately memorable lyrics: "The televisions have eyes. Your modern religion is lies, plotting a collision world-wide; watch the hour glass. The powers clash over currency for world supremacy; burroughs is burned down deliberately, son." And they never put this out? Damn.

Yeah, when they're not talking sociologically, their messages can be a bit simplistic... if you want uber-intellectual political rap, I'm not so sure the Dead Prez manage to live up to their own reputation. But if you find yourself wondering why their fans think so highly of them, track down the red tape for your answer. This is just plain great hip-hop music, no matter how you cut it.


  1. Happiness is probably my favorite Dead Prez joint ever but they did really gay up those drums and ruin it on the "official" single b-side release. Thanks for the reminder, I'd love to own the og on vinyl.
    And whats the deal with this video? A sampler as well, I guess they made a video out of snippets of the tape?
    Cool, never saw this before now. :)

  2. Hey, that's a really cool vid. Yeah, must've been another promotional giveaway. The tape features the full-length song, though, not just the clips used in the video.

  3. Nice post. I remember seeing a video for "Food, Clothes and Shelter" back in the day. Can't remember where...

  4. damn, i still can't find a copy of this red tape, werner, ha. If you ever decide to part with it, let me know, i NEED that version of Happiness in my life.
    Btw, Happiness is produced by Dj Nastee.
    thanks again for the heads up on this tape!

  5. Finally just caught a $10 copy of this tape! thanks again for the heads up Werner!