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