PART 4 - Rap, Race & Riots (How the Rodney King Verdict Changed Hip Hop)

Part 4 of 5 Part Series by Staff Writer Nunneh Nimley

Read Part 1 HERE

Read Part 2 HERE

Read Part 3 HERE

'April 29th was POWER to the people...'

Never one to shy away from controversy, Ice Cube has long put a target on white supremacy and it's many institutions. Lyrics he penned in his dorm at Arizona State, which ended up in his garbage can, only to be discovered by his friends who found and read the lyrics and were blown away by the potency of his lyrics. The rhymes were so honest and passion filled - the year was 1986. The lyrics would later become the ground breaking N.W.A. single "Fuck The Police".

After parting ways with the group, he refused to part ways with the struggle, constantly shedding light on the ongoing war between the oppressed and the oppressor. He substitutes the 'c' in the country's name with three 'K's, in the title of his solo debut. Even to this day, 'AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted' stands as one of the most important albums in the history of hip hop. His sophomore album is just as controversial, if not more so than its predecessor. The single 'Death Certificate' artwork features Cube standing beside a coroner's table. The dead body of what appears to be a white male lay, with a toe tag revealing the idea of the dead. His name? Uncle Sam, and instead of being draped with the traditional white sheet, this body receives more of a patriot farewell. Covered in the 'Rebel Flag', or more commonly known as the 'Confederate' flag, the banner in which the south would battle to the death with their fellow countrymen under during the 'Civil War'.

Like his onetime N.W.A. group mate Dr Dre, Cube also spent the majority of '92 recording an album, and it was almost a given that he would most certainly continue to discuss the issues of inequality amongst black and white citizens. Mistrust of the authorities, and the overall neglect shown towards inner city environments throughout the country fueled the west coast response. Already discussing the tension between blacks and Koreans, that the murder of Latasha Harlins, by store owner Soon Ja Du had become the conversation of national debate after the 15 year old was gunned down following an argument about orange juice. The already tragic tale, would only get worse as the stores surveillance revealed the fact that she was essentially executed in a store she and other neighborhood blacks spent their hard earned money at for years. While never mentioning Harlins or Du by name, "Black Korea" was a warning of what was to come in the days to following the release of the Rodney King verdict. Here is Cube, nothing short of prophetic, promising shop owners that if tension continued to build between business owners and the residents of the community, that their stores would be "burned down to a to a crisp".

Furthermore, on the track right before the short and sweet “Black Korea“, Cube spits: 

“Cause this is Watts Riot 1991, 
and I'mma get my gun”

To put things in better perspective, if police chief Daryl Gates, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley or president George Bush had simply taken the time out to listen to what Ice Cube was talking about in 1991, following the release of the video of King’s beating, and Harlin’s murder the riots could have been avoided, maybe for the time being. The years of built up tension were much more than one year of avoidance could suppress, but the ramifications of the disregard shown to Cube’s many warnings would cost the city upwards to $1 billion of rebuilding. And to think that the purchase of a $12 compact disc, and an hour of listening could’ve helped avoid.

‘The Chronic’ was a huge crossover success while addressing the conditions of LA in the days before, during, and in the aftermath of the riots, it was Ice Cube’s ‘The Predator’, released about 4 weeks prior, on November 17th, 1992, would become the #1 album in the country. Where Dre and the Death Row crew incorporated commentary about the riots, in spurts throughout the album, Cube essentially dedicates his entire album to the anger and tension that would cause the riots. While his subject matter more or less wouldn’t have changed whether the riots happened or not, but the fact is, it happened. And as heartbreaking as the entire scenario was, he fully embraces the events, possessing a “told ya so” type of tone with the rest of the country.

The albums' 1st single is the menacing, and unapologetic “Wicked”. Ice Cube is joined by Anthony Kiedis and Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) destroying buildings and setting cars ablaze. Clips from the riots are incorporated along with his own recreations of the scenarios seen in footage of the riots. Most notably a T shirt that reads, “LAPD: We’ll Treat You Like A King”. White supremacists are chased down deserted city streets, as the police attempt to restore order. An Asian woman walks down the dark street, armed with a hand gun as mayhem ensues, officers are sprayed with fire hose, reminiscent of the Civil Rights peaceful protests that were constantly turned violent by law enforcement that opposed equality.

Taking shots at everyone from the cursed NFL franchise, the Buffalo Bills, to questioning the intentions of newly appointed police chief, Willie Williams, a black man, who gained his position due to the controversy following the riots, Daryl Gates was forced into resignation. Cube questions:

“Through with Darryl Gates, but is Willie Williams
Down with the pilgrims?
Just a.. Super slave,
We'll have to break his ass up like Super Dave”

Some wondered would the new found success of his acting career change his political style, Cube ends all of that right out the gate. Declaring on the albums opener, “When Will They Shoot” making sure to remind listeners that he was a “boy in the hood, way before the movie”. Provoking deep thoughts with lines about everyone from JFK, to Malcolm X, from Hitler to Uncle Sam. Mentioning how he’s given the green light to use terms like ‘nigga’, ‘bitch’ or ‘hoe’ but claims he is advised not to say the “K-word”. Alluding to members of the KKK graduating to now wearing 3 piece suits, this is vintage Cube with years worth of injustice and inequality to shed new light on.

His anger isn’t only aimed at those in positions of power, as he did in ‘Death Certificate’ the year before, he once again questions the integrity of black America and its own contribution to genocide. He squares off with ‘Mr Gangbanger’ on the first verse to “Now I Gotta Wet’Cha”, where he questions the purpose of blindly firing shots in drive-bys. But by the 2nd verse, he leaves South Central and sets his aim on Simi Valley, taking aim at the community that produced 12 jurors who saw no wrong doing in the actions of the officers who beat the breaks off of Rodney King the year before.

Where as Dre sampled the words of those outside of First AME Church after the verdict reading, Cube incorporates sound bites from Dr Khalid Muhammad’s controversial appearance on Phil Donahue’s daytime television so. Audience members can be seen speaking their distaste or support for the message of Muhammad, even featuring reference to the unprovoked death of the 16 year old Yusef Hawkins, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in 1989. Also speeches pieces of speeches appear throughout the album from the likes of Malcolm X, Farrakhan, and Cube himself.

The title track is the first of many, where he addresses officers in the King beating by name and threatens retribution. Expresses the desire to burn Billboard Magazine’s building down, Cube taking offense to the magazines criticism of the “anti-Semitic/Korean” themes of his ‘Death Certificate’ album. Not even the ’Statue Of Liberty’ is safe from the venom, Cube effortlessly spits. Reginald Denny gets a jab or two, and he lets he be known that Jerry Heller is a devil, though this time he spares Eazy E and the remaining members of N.W.A.

The 2nd single still stands as one of Cube’s most successful, and at the time was quite the contrast to what we’ve become accustomed to hearing from him. For the first time in his 3 solo albums, it seems that he just may be enjoying himself, he discusses the making of a perfect 24 hours on the infectious, and universally loved “Today Was A Good Day”. While the theme of the record can be seen as ‘happy go lucky’, or ‘worry free’, it’s everything but that. It’s as thought provoking as anything else found on the album. The video shows him playing basketball with his friends, riding through South Central in a green candy painted 64’ Impala with gold Daytons, black bandana tight around his head. He eats a swine free breakfast, shoots dice with his homies, the police don’t even bother to look in his direction. Enjoying victories in dominoes, he later bumps into his high school crush, who has weed to go with the beer Cube has provided.

This is the day dreams are made of, Cube enjoys the beauty of life in the midst of the war filled streets of early 90’s LA. No LAPD or local news helicopters hovering above the neighborhood searching for murder suspects. Nobody he knows got killed, the day just continues to get better, only to be capped off with the Goodyear blimp recognizing how magnificent his day has been and pay homage by revealing “Ice Cube’s a pimp” in the light display. A lot of the situations surrounding post riots LA are highlighted in ‘Good Day’, as the video shows a gang funeral for both the Bloods and Crips. I can’t help but think some of the peace attributed to Cube’s fictional day has it’s roots in the gang truce of 92, contrary to what the authorities think, the streets were in fact safer after the two warring factions decided on better ways to settle their differences

But like all good things, Cube’s ‘good day’ had to come to an end. Even after highlighting the events of the day with the fact that he “didn’t even have to use his AK[47]”). In the video he returns home find the helicopters he had avoided seeing all day, were at his home waiting for him. Several police cars barricade the cul-de-sac, Cube looks the police unphased and walking to his home, where he’s followed by several officers. “Check Ya Self” the albums final single picks back up at that point, he engages in gunfire with the police and is eventually sent to the country jail. The track itself, while accompanied by an entertaining video he takes shots at both House Of Pain and MC Hammer (who he previously dissed on ‘True To The Game’). It plays as a cautionary tale to phony rappers, and fake gangsters alike. Das Efx, coming off the success of their debut album, assist on the songs chorus.

“2 days niggas laid in the cut. To get 
some respect, we had to TEAR this mothafucka up”

In the video, form ‘Good Day’ is interrupted by the police ambush, while on the album the track “We Had To Tear This Mothafucka Up”, is the undisputed best song in response to the 92 uprising. The track starts off with the George Bush's response to the uprising.

("Peace, quiet and good order will be maintained in our city to the best of our ability. Riots, melees and disturbances of the peace are against the interests of all our people; and therefore cannot be permitted.") -
("The jury found that they were all not guilty, not guilty...")
("We've been told that all along Crenshaw Boulevard that there's a series of fires. A lot of looting is going on. A disaster area, obviously.")

What ensues is nothing short of genius, Cube personifies the frustration of the entire black population of LA (and to an extent), a sentiment that was shared throughout black America. His passionate response can be applied to the many cases of police brutality with a lack of charges filed, and in the case they are, guilty verdicts are extremely rare. Cube goes on a fictional killing spree on the officers involved in the beating, handing out swift vigilante diss. Laurence Powell has his throat slit, afterwards Cube admits to smiling. Sergeant Stacy Koon, is shot in the face before being sodomized with a broom stick. Officer Timothy Wynn’s fate comes from the bullets of a Mac-10 sub machinegun, that Cube has specifically for him, and also suggests that he should be shipped back to Kansas, in a casket

All the while he’s manages to send shots at the Jury in their suburb of Simi Valley, and still able to score a laptop while looting. Cubeeven suggests that the ignorance shown towards his many warnings in the years prior is more reason to burn and loot anything onsite that wasn’t black owned.

“I told you it would happened and you heard it, read it
But all you can call me was anti-Semitic
Regret it? Nope,
Said it? Yep”
No party is spared. While the National Guard shut down streets, traveling with armored vehicles and implementing a city wide curfew on the 4th day of rioting, they’re simply brushed off in one line:
“But your National Guard ain’t hard”
Before stating.
“You had to get Rodney to stop me, cause you know what?
We woulda tore this mothafucka up”

After dealing with those responsible for the beating, the jury that acquitted them, brushing off the president and National Guard, the 3rd verse is just a looting spree of sorts. Stealing everything from blunts, Betty Crocker baking goods, popcorn, before hitting the local Footlocker for Nike and Adidas only. Encouraging others to throw Molotov cocktails, before meeting up with others to steal weapons from an Military store. As angry as it may come across, he handle each situation with such fury and passion and in the end, it seems that he’s once again had a 'good day'.

“Dirty Mack” takes a more lighthearted approach, as he discusses a sexual encounter with a local female with who he believes to be a friend, who turns around and relays the message to the female involved, this act of disloyalty earns him a title of a ‘dirty mack’. The 2nd verse once again attacks the editor of Billboard, before emasculating the Guardian Angels. Daring them to come to South Central with ‘their community watch-like stance’ on curbing local crimes. Something tells me they never took him up on the challenge.

For those that found his prior music to have a misogynistic message, don’t have much to complain about here, as he doesn’t unleash on grimey females until “Don’t Trust ‘Em”. Exposing how women use their good looks to set up men with money for robbery. “Gangsta’s Fairytale 2” is the sequel to the original, that appeared on his debut. A light hearted tale that puts an urban spin on the childhood stories we’ve all heard.

Cubebecomes the victim of police brutality on “Who Got The Camera”, sampling audio of those unsympathetic to past victims of police misconduct. On his way home, along with a lady friend, he’s pulled over for fitting the description. The officer doesn’t believe his last name is “Jackson”, before pulling out his nightstick and refers to Cube as a “silly black thug” (sound familiar?). He’s thrown to the ground, his pager breaks, before being tased. He takes a shot a at the black officer on the scene as well, and as a crowd forms to witness the beating, all he can ask is, ’who got da camera?’.

Closing out the album, he features a sound bites from Malcolm X, Phil Donahue, and Khalid Mohamed amongst others. “Say Hi To The Bad Guy” is his farewell, never one to go quietly he flips the Das Efx flow while describing being chased by not only police helicopters but also a canine, determined to eat a chunk of his leg. The next scenarios features Cube once again being pulled over, except this time he’s able to entice the officer with a bag of donuts, before shooting him, and showing no remorse.

If there’s anyone that ever wants to understand the state of mind of those during a revolt such as the one witnessed in LA some 23 years ago, ’The Predator’ may be the best depiction. The anger is evident, as is the cry for help. Neglect of entire city neighborhoods creates the attitude in which Cube posses throughout the album. While most of it is fictional in a sense, the emotions are very real. The frustrations with the system and the inability to be understood as young black man by white America, creates the energy that this album oozes with. In 56 minutes, he makes sense of the 96 hours of events that lead to National Guard being sent to the streets of South Central LA. As he spits in the 3rd verse of "Wicked", "April 29th was power to the people"

"And we just might see sequel" 
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