Hip-Hop and the Police

Standard

 

As we all know oh so well, Hip-Hop is the life lived and chronicled in various ways. In its infancy its pioneers felt both the neglect and abuse coming from police officers in New York City. Hence, the history of rap music has always chided and criticized the boys in blue. The fact that rap music was created by poor young blacks in low-income neighborhoods further solidifies this notion. Hence throughout the past few decades rap music has released many songs about the police and the negative aspects of being abused, harassed, and hassle by police officers. It’s amazing how poignant these songs remain, and how most of mainstream white America has ignored these calls for justice and peace. Ice Cube was interviewed shortly after the L.A. riots and was asked about his opinions for the initial spark. He said that you should have listened to his music, and his cohorts in California, and the entire country. Once you heard the songs you’ll get an idea why African-American males both fear and hate the police. Here are a few examples of the fire burning from within and how it was put into music.

The history of the early rap recordings are rather sparse when it comes to voicing opinions on police brutality. Most of the politically inclined songs, and there were very few, spoke about the decline of the quality of life, and the disheveled ghetto living conditions. Most of these tracks began to proliferate in the West Coast, and one of the earliest rap songs to lament police tactics is the legendary song “Batterram” by Toddy Tee.

The song, which was circulating first through tapes and later through pressed records, along with Ice-T’s “6 in the Mornin'” is one of the first so-called West Coast Gangsta tracks. Released in 1985 before the coming of N.W.A., it spoke about the tactics used by the Los Angeles Police Department at the time. The Batterram was basically a tank with a flat batterram propped on the tip of the canon. The batterram was used during the height of the crack epidemic. The police would drive it, or actually ram it, into suspected crack houses in order to deter the dealers from running away or flushing their wares. This was the new normal, and the experience further solidified this rage and anger, which festered over into the LA riots in 1991.

The same year, that saw “Betterram” proliferate through the ghettos and later into the mainstream, another track coming from the east coast spoke about the brutality and contradictions of the slogans and the realities.

The track titled “The Beast Within” by King of Chill & The Alliance of MC’s has many strong points of contention when talking about the NYPD. The MC drops lines like “Brutality is against the law, but that’s not according to what I saw.” This is a perfect example of the diametric opposite of being a young black man in the city and being a white man in the suburbs. Each is privy to their local realities, hence the white man would not see or experience the same brutality that the black man would.

Once we reach the later part of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s we have to focus on two groups whom fundamentally changed this equation of calling out cops on record. N.W.A. and Public Enemy called out these injustices, but in very different ways. N.W.A.’s response is the epitome of what most white establishment types dread, black rage. This is all encapsulated in their classic ode to the boys in blue, “Fuck the Police.”

This is the unadulterated version of black rage, aiming their vitriol at the source of their pain and anguish, the police. They hit the ground running with Ice Cube rapping “Fuck the police coming straight from the underground, a nigga got it bad cause I’m brown” and “They have the authority to kill a minority.” These lines are not coming from a vacuum, but from deep-rooted anger at the abuse coming from the LAPD and disproportionately towards young black men. By unleashing the beast they are using the only means they have of protest, which is a call to violence. The track was so dangerous to the police that they feared the repercussions, and eventually targeted the group even though they were protected by the first amendment.

Ice Cube continued on after leaving the group with his call to arms against the powers that be. One of the best is from his album The Predator, and it’s another call for handing out some beatdowns.

Getting stopped by some punk cops, being harassed, being blamed, and blasting some shots are all in Cube’s day’s work.

N.W.A. actually made a sequel to the track “Fuck the Police” on their following EP 100 Miles and Runnin titled “Sa Prize (Fuck the Police – Part. 2).”

Public Enemy’s members were far more cerebral when it came to their attacks on the corruption, and the long history of abuse heaped on African-Americans by the progenitors of justice.

The track titled “Get the Fuck Out of Dodge” is Public Enemy’s stance on feeling the stress of being dogged by the police. Chuck D tells us about his ride through New York and an unprovoked stop by the police, which leads to a stern warning by a police officer, and in the video the officer is black. It’s very poignant, but the most penetrating lines are in the last verse, which are uttered by the cop. The officer identifies himself and says this to Chuck and the crew;

“Sgt. Hawkes and I’m down wit’ the cop scene

I’m a rookie and I’m rollin’ wit’ a swat team

Packin’ a nine can’t wait to use it

Crooked cop yeah that’s my music

Up against the wall don’t gimme no lip son

A bank is robbed and you fit the description

And I ain’t your mama and I ain’t your pops

Keep your music down or you might get shot

This is a warning so watch your tail

Or I’m a have to put your ass in jail

I’m the police and I’m in charge

You don’t like it get the f— outta Dodge”

They perfectly portray the nervousness and frustration felt in public by young black men, where they are constantly on egg shells when it comes to interactions with the police.

There were many more rappers and rap groups in the 1990’s who dropped some cop killing gems. They spanned the gamut of content, but most detailed lived experiences where they project first person accounts. Another great west coast staple in Hip-Hop is the greatly underrated Cypress Hill. They dropped many songs detailing the corrupt cops with a sly wit and sense of humor. One great example is the song “Pigs,” which is the opening track to their debut self-titled album.

It is very interesting in how they give each police officer a stereotypical character, in the same vain that police lump people together. They also penetrate the storyline withe sound effects like oinks and other pig sounds, giving the song moments of levity and humor amidst a serious topic.

They dropped another great critique of police officers on their fourth album with the track “Looking Through the Eye of a Pig.”

The vitriol continues as many artists rapped about their hatred for corrupt abusive police officers. Tupac Shakur has been prolific in his criticisms of the unjust system, and he comments on this with his second parter of his Souljah’s saga.

On this track titled “Souljah’s Revenge” he gives a screed on the stress of being black and harassed by cops. Other west coast artists made sure to let it be known that the way to fight back is through their music. Wether it was from the late great Mac Dre’s track titled “Punk Police”

Who in reality was hassle repeatedly by the police because they believed that he committed crimes and then rapped about them on his records. This scary precedent has made it to the judicial system, showing how racist the courts have become when it comes to using rap lyrics as criminal evidence.

Artists from the deep south also voiced their frustration with the police, and voicing the nation wide rage and disproportionate abuse towards black men. Wether it’s the great duo of Bun B and Pimp C (RIP), also known as UGK, doing the song “Protect & Serve”

Or Houston’s own legendary Geto Boys depiction of corrupt cops on their track titled “Crooked Officer”

It’s the same story, only in a different predominantly black neighborhood.

Rappers have never shied away from the critical issues, and one of these issues is black police officers. Black filmmakers coming of age in the early 1990’s depicted these scenes of black teenagers being harassed by cops, and treated the worst by black cops. There are scenes from films like Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society where the black police officer is the most unrelenting and unjust. This was parodied in the film Don’t be a Menace to South Central Without Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Phew!!! where the great late Bernie Mack goes on a tirade about his black self-loathing issues. Rappers dropped this image as well with groups like Brand Nubian calling these so-called cops out. On their track “Black and Blue”

They chide these wannabe officers and their corrupt tendencies. Sadat X even jabs at the main character by saying he was a “black Bull Conor,” which is far from a compliment. KRS-ONE also chided the black cop with his immortal track titled “Black Cop.”

He laments the fact that these cops take orders and perpetuate the black on black violence. He also notes that this is a new fad as there were no black cops 30 years ago. In the present they were trained, according to KRS, for nefarious reasons. He raps that,”

“Recently police trained black cop,

To stand on the corner, and take gunshot,

This type of warfare isn’t new or a shock.”

Black cops are used as targets in order to save more white cops. KRS-ONE also links the case nationally by saying that black kids are dying in the west and in the east. He then raises the issues into the international spectrum by saying that its “black cops killing black kids in Johannesburg.” From New York City, to California to South Africa black cops should not be used as pawns in the game. It’s all nonsense to KRS as he ends it with the chant of “don’t be the sucker coming into my face.”

There’s also a disconnect as most Americans don’t connect the historical dots. However, if you trace enslaved members in your family tree you might feel a sense of animosity and hate towards the powers that be. There were a few great rap songs that connected these dots and one of the greatest to me is Public Enemy’s classic track off their fourth album titled “Can’t Trust It.”

Both the song and the video are powerful in how they portray the connection from the slave master to the police officer. The connection is even more direct when comparing the officers to the overseers whipping slaves in the fields. This is a direct connection, that is not only felt by the group but by the greater African-American community. KRS-ONE also rapped about crooked cops, but one of his best tracks is “Sound of Da Police”

The lyrics to the song refer to New York City cops and their use of excessive violent force. It’s a protest song against institutionalized racism, oppression and violence against the national black community. The song is also very historically grounded as he uses allusions to the past that are intimately connected to the Blastmaster. These moments are made clear when he compares the word “Overseer” and “Officer” and how they sound very much alike. He then raps out the connection by saying that,

“The overseer rode around the plantation,

the officer is off, patrolling all the nation,

The overseer could stop you what you doing,

The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing,

The overseer had a right to get ill,

And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest.”

He continues on by personalizing these accounts by rapping that it was something he, and his family, experienced. He solidifies it by rapping that,

“My grandfather had to deal with the cops,

My great-grandfather dealt with the cops,

My great-great-grandfather had to deal with the cops,

And then my great, great, great, great….when it’s gonna stop.”

That is the question black people are asking, and if listened to the music we might get the message.

Peace and Justice to all

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One of the Best Hip-Hop Albums You Never Heard: Dispatches 3

Standard

During the late blistering Summer of 2003 an album of epic proportions was about to hit the streets. When I first gazed, while listening to the tracks, at the album cover I was mesmerized. It was a brownish color with thick pictures of diamonds and gold, in the intrusive style that your fingers could feel the lettering and the sharp edges of each diamond. Amidst the visuals was a bugged-out looking mouse, and of course his name sent me back to my childhood in Tel-Aviv. This is one of the best rap records you never heard, and unfortunately at the time most let it slip into obscurity. This is the first album where I heard the production skills of the then unknown maestro by the name of Danger Mouse. He would be matched with the lyrical prowess of a discarded Brooklyn rapper known as Jemini the Gifted One. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Ghetto Pop Life.

When I first heard the music my mind spiraled at the immense creativity while using these amazing sounds in order to magnify the lyrical massacre. The album, as I noted before was the first Danger Mouse album, where he took his first foray into rap music. Before the release of the album the Atlanta-based producer mostly delved in House and Techno music. Thankfully he challenged himself, as he keeps doing to this day thanks to Gnarles Barkley, Broken Bells, and his Italian opera album Rome, by stepping into a new genre. He managed it with a helpful hand from a seasoned vet.

On the other side of the spectrum is Jemini The Gifted One. The Brooklyn bred rapper was an up and coming rapper in the late 1980’s and into the classic addled 1990’s rap world. His first single “Funk-Soul Sensation” sparked interest across the Hip-Hop world.

The single, produced by Organized Konfusion, is a perfect time capsule of the hard beats and sick flow of 1990’s rap music. The B-Side, “Brooklyn Kids” will echo in his next classic with Danger Mouse.

The single was part of an EP titled Scars & Pain set to be released after the single. Unfortunately, much like Large Professor’s vaunted and unreleased album The LP, it was another example as Ego Trip writes “an underground record falling through the major label cracks.” They continue to add that the EP’s artwork and track listing were all set, but the labels pulled on the purse strings, leading Jemini into obscurity. This would change by the new millenium as we shall see. So let us delve into this so-called (By ME) classic record, and it all starts with the birth of the MC.

Going through the album they weave the theme of life, or rather the ghetto pop life. It seems that this contradiction flies in your face as each song personifies a mania and pop addled life amidst the trials and tribulations of ghetto life. To have Jimini deliver the ode is far more poignant as he was one of these promising talents that was passed on due to the capitalistic nature of modern-day music. Songs like “Ghetto Pop Life,” “What U Sittin’ On?” and “Don’t Do Drugs” are perfect examples of this lavish life thanks to the spoils coming through rap stardom.

Although I like the original album version, this version is interesting thanks to Cee-Lo and their future collaborations. It should also be pointed out that the Liks, Alkaholiks for all you who don’t know the short version, drop some sick rhymes in this spot like when Tash drops that if you slap me in a dream, you betta wake up and apologize. THere’s also another great guest star on two tracks that caught my eyes and ears. J-Zone drops the “fuck you pay me” attitude on “Take Care of Business” and “Don’t Do Drugs” where they wax poetic with plenty of humor.

And fantastically the last track on doing business transitions right into the place to be, Brooklyn.

The song is a diatribe of Brooklyn heat and Brooklyn streets, Brooklyn women and Brooklyn Fillings. As a resident at the time I understood these words, but it also drew me back to those wild collages of rhymes I heard when I was younger in the early 1990’s. Jimini personified those sonic-old school laden lyrics of fury.

There are also a few slow songs, but they still carry such weight with the words and sounds. Songs like “Yoo-Hoo!” and “I’ma Doomee (Love Letter)” are heart-felt love letters, but they still resonate so well as they glide along the fast and slow beats. Both tracks are unadulterated truth as they cover taboo topics and harsh realities of love.

“Yoo-Hoo!” starts with a woman saying that she was told by her mother that, “A man would fuck a snake if you hold his head.” As a response a man retorts that, “With some dudes you don’t have to hold his head, just pull out the teeth.” The humor is penetrated by the truisms of male desire, and female respect. “I’ma Doomee (Love Letter)” is also somewhat tragic as the rapper admits to infidelity while on the road. However, you can’t hold him completely accountable as his sincere love and admiration for his number 1 lady will never be broken. These are tough topics in all our love lives, and if not then we need to check ourselves.

Luckily the album is balanced with moments of humor such as the moments with J-Zone, and his track for the excess of drug use titled “Don’t Do Drugs.”

It pokes fun at the excessive partaking in chemical and natural meds that celebrities use in order to show status and escape.

In the later part of the album we hear a rise in the intensity, triggered by the sounds as well as the content of the lyrics. On the track “Medieval” with members of the great group the Pharcyde trade barbs as the chorus chants “Medieval, Medieval.”

The call to let out the hounds, let the draw bridge down, shoot the enemies of the empire are chanted as it comes to a rising halt. It reaches its height with an operatic end as it slides into the serious stuff. Here come the politics thanks to the Bush boys! Remember, the album dropped in 2003 as we were at the start of the invasion of Iraq, or the Gulf War Part 2.

The track titled “Bush Boys” is obvious in its targets, and they are targeting them hard. The track begins with President George H. W. Bush’s speech calling for a new world order. It then steps into a vicious attack on the state of affairs thanks to the Bush presidencies. He calls out the injustices and military mindedness of the US and how we pinpoint our villains, while doing the same to our own enemies. Jemini is scathing and he drops some interesting lines about the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq and one of my favorite lines being, “I never thought I would see the one day where African people would say they’re republican.” This is a jab at black conservatives and insiders like Colin Powell and Condi Rice. The track ends with the words of President George W. Bush and the conditions in Iraq. We then shift to Iraq where a day of fun and play is penetrated with missiles and explosions, which was a daily occurrence at that point in time.

It all ends with a nice “Knuckle Sandwich”

This is some Brooklyn thoughts in a Brooklyn mind, where keeps asking, “Why they wanna come at me like that?” as if to ask why weren’t we attracted to this new revolutionary rap style. It strung the old with the new, and I feel as if it was a crime for this album to fade into obscurity. Every track is perfect, and even the remixes pack a punch. This was my introduction to both Jemini and Danger Mouse, and I hope it’s a point of re-entry for all of you’ll. Enjoy it cause it’s brick city outside!!!!

Peace

#GhettoPopLife #DangerMouse #JiminiTheGiftedOne #J-Zone #TheAlkaholiks #Pharcyde #ClassicHipHop #ClassicRapRecords

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping It Real-Ism

Standard

One of my fondest memories of the great Dave Chappelle’s show titled Chappelle’s Show is the segment he did on Keeping It Real. The segment was a play on the idea where these characters kept it real at the expense of their dignity. For people in my age group, us born in the late 1970’s to the 1980’s, we all remember growing up and hearing the term “keep it real.” The idea held that you should remain authentic and true to yourself, which was epitomized by Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop’s big tent circus includes all of us from the divergent backgrounds, religions, genders, political viewpoints, etc. No matter our identity we should still strive to the highest peaks of our identities. When we’re climbing the mountain of life we should remain true by keeping it real. Rap music, and in turn Hip-Hop culture, was the signifier of authentic street scenes where keeping it real was unavoidable. However, we shouldn’t get it twisted because this beckons the question of what is Real Rap music? And for that matter what is Real? Let’s take a step back in time to find the roots of realism in the arts for a grander picture of reality.

Interestingly enough I just finished teaching about Realism in literature. The textbook definition of Realism reads that this is an artistic movement that depicted everyday life as it actually was. The movement began in France in the later part of the 19th Century. The idea of depicting reality was forsaking the coinciding art form in the guise of Romanticism. Instead of the sentimental harping of the past’s green pastures and pastoral village scenes, the Realists wrote about the crammed and dirty city streets filled with the carcasses of dead animals and homeless children. These writers also began to write on issues stemming from the rise of industry and the spread of universal education. With the rise of urban migration, the growing numbers of factories and the growing number of incoming laborers these writers viewed all of these grueling conditions as well as the maladies they created. Realist writers, much like artists in rap music, pushed the boundaries of the content and topics they wrote about. Taboo topics like sex, labor strikes, violence, and alcoholism were prime subjects, while the writers wrote of the horrid conditions and terrible behavior displayed by the so-called captains of industry. The movement surrounds three of the most prolific French writers of the time who grew up to the backdrop of the violence and growth of the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the run up to Napoleon III.

Honore de Balzac compiled a book of short stories depicting the vast panorama of French life in the post Revolutionary period titled The Human Comedy.

Honore de Balzac’s The Human Comedy

Gustave Flaubert without moralizing wrote a somewhat mundane account of a middle-class housewife who engages in an affair, and is then betrayed by her lover. The book, Madame Bovary, is fascinating as it eschews any sense of moral grandstanding. It allows the readers to come to their own conclusions and emotions of pity, sorrow, wrath, or none of the above.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

The last author was most famous for his depiction of the working-class life as animalistic and primal in character. Emile Zola was a meticulous researcher and investigative reporter who wrote stories featuring the stock exchange, the big department store, the army, the urban slums, and bloody strikes. Zola sympathized with socialism, as depicted in his book titled Germinal, and he was a champion for social justice as exemplified in his writing on the Alfred Dreyfus affair.

Portrait of Emile Zola by Eduard Manet

These are just three examples of the many writers of the time who turned away from the imaginary fantastic envisaged by the Romantics. There were other prolific writers of the time who took to this style including the great English woman writer George Eliot, and the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Realism has been a profound influence on the arts, and rap music has taken notice of the art form.

Truthfully most of the earliest rap recordings, beginning in 1979 were far from political. The raps were getting away from the reality of the streets of New York City. The city as a whole was crumbling, and the blight was evident to those who could not escape its harsh realities. It was this reality that most people wanted to escape, hence you have disco which is an over-exaggeration of corpulent pleasure. When Kool Herc and the rest of the DJ’s across the city began their parties they wanted to provide a safe space for enjoyment. Hence, the earliest recordings and raps were far from political, thereby escaping the reality of the streets. It wasn’t until the Summer of 1982 with the release of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s epic ode to the reality of the streets titled “The Message.”

The video adds to the reality by showing the grime and decay of the New York City streets. The words add to that feeling of dread and hopelessness telling of the poor living standards, and how the pressure is a constant weight on black men like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. Interestingly enough the lyrics were not written by Flash or any member of the group, but by Duke Bootie who was a session musician for their record label, Sugar Hill Records. Once he lobbied the song to Sylvia Robinson she agreed to record it using the Furious Five. Flash and the rest of the group thought that it was a mistake as the record was slow, hence it would hurt their routine by pulling legs off the dance floor. The only member to be part of the recording was Melle Mel who rapped the written lyrics while adding a past lyric of his for the last verse.

The song was rare when compared to the other rap songs released that very same year. Early rap music veered away from the serious issues because that was the main reason for its existence, escape. It wasn’t until the 1980’s where certain artists began to rap about hardships in their lives and their communities. Artists like Run-DMC, who’s earliest songs “It’s Like That” and “Hard Times” spoke about these issues. Kurtis Blow lamented about hard times on his great single “the Breaks,” and groups like Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T, and Schoolly D all rhymed about the gangster life. Reality began to take center stage by the late 1980’s with two of the greatest reality based rap groups, N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Each had their own style of transmission, but they were very aggressive in their depiction of realities that seemed far too harsh for American ears and eyes, especially the whiter side of the country.

Public Enemy was interested in history while depicting the racist and oppressive realities of life in America.

Chuck D, and the rest of the group crafted these dense albums with many issues that are plaguing African-Americans, while focusing on the injustices that should stoke any American’s anger and ire. This was a form of reality that was not as popular in rap music in the past.

N.W.A. on the other hand depicted the reality of street life, so much so to the point where certain Hip-Hop scholars call it a type of “hyper-reality.” They dwell in this extreme in order to discredit racism, while at the same time reveling in these stereotypes.

The reality business in rap music blew up after both of these groups came onto the scene. Many groups and artists began to replicate both formulas. However, it was the hyper-reality of N.W.A. that has been championed, and remains that way to this day. Many MC’s and groups in the 1990’s began to record albums that were considered authentic street histories and anthropological studies. If an MC wasn’t real he was considered an outcast, fake, a carbon copy of the real thing. Reality is so poignant in 1990’s rap music that street-cred was a plus, more so during an album release. There were plenty of MC’s who released albums while they were in prison. The language also became real-er as there was far more cursing on rap records when compared to the 1980’s. Thanks to N.W.A. the N-word, or Nigga, was used far more in songs, and remains a helpful bridge in certain rap songs to this day. There were also plenty of songs that contained the key word to their authenticity in the market, Real. Certain examples include, but are not limited to:

Diamond D featuring Sadat X and Lord Finesse “You Can’t Front (shit is Real)”

Fat Joe’s “Shit is Real”

Not to be mistaken you also have Mic Geronimo’s “Shit’s Real”

And let’s not forget Brooklyn’s Black Moon who also dropped one with “Shit Iz Real”

And, one of my favorites by Group Home titled “The Realness”

let’s not also forget the many artists who made a song titled “Keep it Real,” where I can count at least ten artists spanning from Apache to Lost Boyz, and from Timbaland Featuring Genuwine to Kool Keith.

Fortunately some groups spoke of the political, and some still do, but by the later part of the decade is began to subside. Leaping into the 21st Century it seems as if the younger crop of rappers and rap groups have eschewed the Public Enemy Formula for the N.W.A. formula. This excessive use of hyper-reality is what separates the older Hip-Hop generation from the younger generation. However, there have been some glimmers of hope where certain artists have gripped with reality when it comes to their art. One of my favorites is the concept album made by one of the most underrated artists, Mr. Lif and his first album titled I Phantom. This concept album is a perfect example of realism by going through the life of a man resurrected out of the ghetto and into the mundane life of a working stiff. Just look and listen to the song where he laments the drudgery of low wage work and the pressure of the dead-end job in his song “Live from the Plantation.”

A more recent example is Kendrick Lamar’s debut album, good kid, M.a.a.d City. A concept album of its own, he manages to weave everyday life narratives with the reality of living in Compton, California. There are examples of the hyper-reality scenarios, yet they are finely balanced with these narratives, which makes us sympathize with this good kid, living in the mad city. Here’s a mix of footage from the classic flick Menace II Society using his song “Maad City” as the backdrop. It’s a perfect example of how timeless the album is, as well as rap music’s timelessness.

The concept of Realism as an art from began in France after the great turmoil and bloodshed of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Rap music came about from these dire conditions from the people who lived it and experienced it on a daily basis. However, the early DJ’s and rappers veered from away from the harsh realities in order to alleviate the attendees. Once “the Message” was recorded rap music would forever change where a few artists addressed issues that were considered taboo. This continues on to the present day where you have these issues, yet it seems that the hyper has dominated over the reality. Rap music, like Realism in Literature, is a bon-fide art form that should be constantly studied and analyzed. It should be looked at with a fine tooth comb like the archives of other historical moments and movements. We just need to lift the veil in order to keep it real, but always remember what happens if you try too hard, and that’s when keeping it real goes terribly wrong.

Peace,