The LA Riots – The Event That Changed Hip Hop Forever

The LA Riots – The Event That Changed Hip Hop Forever

Living in Los Angeles in the early 80’s, I got to witness a lot of violence and criminal behavior.  The inner-city neighborhoods were calm although gangs roamed the streets since the early 60’s after the Watt’s Riots.  Once drugs came into the neighborhood, it was not safe to walk the streets once the sun went down.  Cops began doing gang sweeps and introduced us to the “battering ram”.  The battering ram was a tank used to knock down walls so police officers can storm in a house before the occupants can can get rid of evidence.  This use of “force” left houses torn down, neighborhoods ruined and if they got the wrong house, left people homeless.  At the time Hip Hop was in its infancy in LA, and Compton rapper Toddy Tee wrote about this in his song “Batterram”.  It became one of the first rap songs about “police brutality”.

“Mayor of the city, what you’re tryin to do?
They say they voted you in in ’82
(But on the next term) huh, without no doubt
They say they gon’ vote your jack ass out
Because you musta been crazy or half-way wack
(To legalize somethin that works like that)
And the Chief of Police says he just might
(Flatten out every house he sees on sight)
Because he say the rockman is takin him for a fool
And for some damn reason it just ain’t cool
And when he drives down the street, I tell you the truth
He gets no respect, they call his force F Troop
He can’t stand it, he can’t take no more
And now he’s gonna have you all fall into the floor
And Mister Rockman, you better stop some day
Hang it up homeboy, your house will pay”

Ice T was another rapper talking about the police and he made it a big part of his career with songs like “6 In The Morning” and “Squeeze The Trigger” were he says,

“Cops hate kids,kids hate cops,cops kill kid’s with warnin’ shouts
What is crime and what in not?what is justice?I think I forgot
We buy weapons to keep us strong
Reagan sends guns where they don’t belong
The controversy is thick and the drag is strong
But no matter the lies we all know who’s wrong”

Once N.W.A jumps in the rap game, all those songs seem tame next to their riot anthem “Fuck Tha Police”.  Young Black and Hispanic kids were being tortured and even killed by cops in LA.  Gang members caught by the police were beat up and dropped of in “opposite” neighborhoods so the other gang can finish them off.  N.W.A put all that in their song and even received a letter from he FBI telling them that their song promotes violence and that they would be liable for any incidents.  N.W.A cared less and even later went on making a part 2 to the song.  Ice Cube’s classic lyrics will stay with us forever with his opening lines,

“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
for a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
to be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager
with a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics”

In 1991, the climate changed for the worse in Los Angeles and boiled over in a way we have never seen before!  On the early morning of March 3rd 1991, Rodney King was driving his Hyundai Excel on the 118 in Simi Valley when he was chased by police.  A high speed chase continued for miles until Rodney King finally pulled over and as he surrendered was beaten with clubs, tasered,  and officer’s boots to the point where he broke ever bone in his face and almost died.  An amateur photographer was looking out his window and caught the footage on camera.  He then sold it to Channel 5 KTLA and the rest was history.  Now instead of just hearing about it, we can see it with our own eyes.  Now the people that did not like or even heard of Hip Hop can now see that these rap “thugs” as they referred them as, were telling the truth.

A total of 13 days later on March 16, Latasha Harlins (a black teenager) was killed trying to buy a carton of orange juice at a Korean liquor store and was killed with a bullet to her head.  The Korean owner and killer was sentenced to 5 months probation and no jail time.

This sparked ever more anger in the South Central LA community forcing rappers like Ice Cube to write a song like Black Korea.  It’s only a 46 second track, but it not only “ruffled feathers” but predicted what was going to happen.

“Everytime I wanna go get a fuckin brew
I gotta go down to the store with the two
oriental one-penny countin motherfuckers
that make a nigga made enough to cause a little ruckus
Thinkin every brother in the world’s out to take
So they watch every damn move that I make
They hope I don’t pull out a gat and try to rob
they funky little store, but bitch, I got a job
(“Look you little Chinese motherfucker
I ain’t tryin to steal none of yo’ shit, leave me alone!”
“Mother-fuck you!”)
Yo yo, check it out
So don’t follow me, up and down your market
Or your little chop suey ass’ll be a target
of the nationwide boycott
Juice with the people, that’s what the boy got
So pay respect to the black fist
or we’ll burn your store, right down to a crisp
And then we’ll see ya!
Cause you can’t turn the ghetto – into Black Korea”

2Pac wrote about Latasha Harlins in a couple of songs but nothing compares to the emotions he displays on “Hellrazor” where he talks about how the teenager must of felt with his lyrics,

“Dear Lord if ya hear me, tell me why
Little girl like Latasha, had to die
She never got to see the bullet, just heard the shot
Her little body couldn’t take it, it shook and dropped
And when I saw it on the news how she buck the girl killin ‘Tasha
Now I’m screamin fuck the world, in the end
it’s my friends, that flip-flop
Lip-locked on my dick when my shit drop
Thug Life motherfucker I lick shots
Every nigga on my block dropped two cops”

Tensions were high and Los Angeles was producing some of the greatest “gangsta-rap” tracks and artists.  Songs like CMW’s “One Time Gaffled Em Up” and Cypress Hill “Pigs” along with the entire “Straight Outta Compton” LP gave LA a soundtrack.  One year later, on April 29 1992, the verdicts on the Federal trial of the officers came in. Officers Koon, Briseno, Wind and Powell were all declared not guilty.  Los Angeles was about to explode!

On the corner of Normadie and Vermont is where the majority of the chaos happened.  Motorists were pulled out of their cars and beaten and was uncensored for the whole world to see live.  As the looting started, all you can hear is “Fuck Tha Police” over and over again.  It was as if the clouds had surround sound and the song was on repeat forever.  Rappers rushed to the studios to record their tracks on the verdict.

Ice Cube enlisted fellow west coast rappers King Tee, Yo-Yo, MC Eiht, B Real, J-Dee, Kam, and Threat to do a track about the riots.  The group was called “Get The Fist Movement” with the title of the song appropriately named “Get The Fist”.

Ice Cube also wrote a track on his “The Predator” album called “We Had Tear This Muthafucka Up” where he explains how he felt after he heard the verdict,

“Not guilty the filthy devils tried ta kill me
When the news get to the hood then niggas will be
hotter than cayenne pepper, cuss, bust
Kickin up dust is a must
I can’t trust a cracker in a blue uniform
Stick a nigga like a unicorn
Born, wicked, Lawrence Powell, foul
Cut his fuckin throat and I smile
Go to Simi Valley and surely
somebody knows the address of the jury
Pay a little visit, “Who is it?” (Who is Ice Cube?)
“Can I talk to the grand wizard?” then boom
Make him eat the barrel, modern day pharoah
Now he’s zipped up like leather tuscadero
Pretty soon we’ll catch Sergeant Koon
Shoot him in the face, run up in him witta broom
Stick prick, devils ain’t shit
Introduce his ass to the AK40 dick
Two dazed niggas layin in the cut
To get some respect we had to tear this muthafucka up”

He later reminds us that his words came true and he warned us all,

“I told you all what happened and you heard it, read it
but all you could call me was anti-Semitic
Regret it-nope, said it-yep
Listen to my big black boots as I step”

Ice Cube also collaborated with Dr Dre on “Natural Born Killaz” where Ice Cube recreates the beating of Reginald Denny when he says,

“Don’t panic
I can’t stand it
God Damn it
Scizophrenic
So fuck Charlie Manson
I’ll snatch him out of his truck
Hit ’em with a brick
And I’m dancin”

On his track “Wicked” he goes all out with a video and track that recreates the LA Riots with the help of native LA rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers.  “April 29th more power to the people” Ice Cube exclaims!

Dr Dre also contributes with his own track, “The Day The Nigguz Took Over” where he takes us even deeper into the hate we had that day and what he took from that day.

“Sittin in my livin room calm and collected
Feelin mad, gotta get mine respected
cuz what I just heard broke me in half
and half the niggaz I know, plus the niggaz on the Row, is bailin
Laugh now but cry much later
Ya see when niggas get together they get mad cuz they can’t fade us
Like my niggas from South Central, Los Angeles
They find that they couldn’t handle us
Bloods, Crips on the same squad
with the Ese’s help a nigga it’s time ta rob and mob
(And break the white man off somthin lovely, biddy-bye-bye
I don’t love dem so they can’t love me)
Yo straight puttin down gettin my scoot on
Let’s jump in off in Compton so I gots ta get my loot on
and come up on me some furniture or sometin
Got a VCR
in the back of my car
that I ganked from the Slauson Swap Meet
And motherfuckers better not try to stop me
Cuz they will see that I can’t be stopped
Cuz I’ma cock my Glock and pop til they all drop”

Kam came with probably the best “aftermath” riot track with “Peace Treaty”.  While everyone was looting, Bloods and Crips came together and initiated a gang truce.  The unity was captured on film and motivated Kam to write this epic track!

“Lookin at the aftermath of the riot
I can still smell the ashes
From all the clashes
But quiet is kept, it wasn’t just the blacks
Everybody was lootin, and had each other’s backs
We came through in understandin, demandin
Justice, bust this, we all had our hand in
The cookie jar, took it far enough to make a statement
Daryl Gates – that’s where all the hate went
We pass by a swap meet
Been shoppin at for years, but it couldn’t stop me
See ya, wouldn’t wanna be your next door neighbor
Less government relief checks, more labor
10 percent blood suckers of the poor took a loss
For exploitation, had to show em who was boss
Teach em not to be so greedy
Had to shut em down, bound by a peace treaty”

He later goes on to say,

“Hit the park, bailed out the car
And seen blue and red everywhere, look how strong we are
Niggas showin up from this gang and that gang
Nobody set-trippin, cause it’s a black thing
People just partyin, sippin on a cup
Some of the Compton F.O.I. even showed up
Suited and booted, kickin it with the locs
In unity, soon we’ll be lovin all black folks”

But after all the smoke cleared, we stopped hearing tracks about police brutality, injustice, and how to empower ourselves and overcome.  The music changed forever. We now got Ice Cube claiming that “It Was a Good Day” where the “police rolled right past me”.   Dr Dre had “Nuthin But A G Thang” and Snoop was asking “Who Am I?”. The days of N.W.A were long gone.  It was as if everything was peaches and cream in the world.  The struggle and anger we had inside all dissipated and we no longer had the strength to fight.  It is true that the LAPD went through an overhaul and was “cleaned up” a bit, but the world of Hip Hop went in a totally different direction.  Rappers in LA rapped more about sex and blunts than anything else.  So as time passed by, the “gangsta-rap” genre slowly became less and less popular.  “Gangsta-rap” killed acts like Kid N Play and Kwame and now they were being replaced by Mase and Puffy with their shiny suits.  To me, this is where the deterioration of Hip Hop started.

I do agree that after the riots we had some of the greatest rap albums of all time (Illmatic, Low End Theory, The Chronic, Ready To Die, etc) but after 2000 the music took a downward spike.  Most rappers today tend to speak about molly, blunts, sex, booty, and most importantly how much money they make and have.  Hip Hop fans that were born in the 70’s were turned off and pages like this were born.

On February 26 2012, Trayvon Martin (a teenager) was shot and killed by a “Neighborhood Watch” associate for looking suspicious.  George Zimmerman (the shooter) was acquitted of all charges. On July 17th 2014, Eric Garner (African-American) was killed via a police chokehold by a white cop for selling loose cigarette outside of a Staten Island store.  The police officer in question was also acquitted of all wrong doing.  On Aug 9 2014, Michael Brown (African-American) was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri for stealing cigarettes from a convenience store.  A video of the shooting was released and rioting ravaged the city of Ferguson. Verdict?  Acquitted of course!   After all this you would think that the rap world would run to the studio and do some “protest rap” tracks but very few were released.  No “Cop Killer”.  No “Sound of Da Police”.  No nothing!  We were no longer the “CNN of the ghetto” as Chuck D once said.  I was waiting to see if a crew like N.W.A, BDP or PE would arise.  None.  Its a shame.  Instead kids were blasting Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, Nicki Minaj “Anaconda” and Bobby Schmurda’s “Hot Boy”.

The question remains, “Are we ok with all the wrong doings against us and our people?” People?  Hip Hop Nation!  Do we no longer have the strength to “Fight the Power”?  I can understand if the world was “perfect and equal” but it is not and will never be!  We would be influenced by what we see and record it on wax.  So if all we hear on tracks is GREED, is that all we see?  As the immortal words of Chilly B once said “Clean out your ears and you open your eyes, if you want to hear the music just come alive”.  Will conscious rap have a resurgence?  I hope so but by the look of things, highly doubtful.  So what do we do now?  Is rap music “Ready to Die?”

-Al E.

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