The year was 1988. Japan’s Olympic Games went off without a hitch, astronomers found an ocean beneath the crust of one of Jupiter’s moons, and a small gangsta rap collective released one of the most memorable, most inflammatory songs of all time. “Fuck tha Police”—which was featured on N.W.A.’s debut album, Straight Outta Compton—prophetically criticized police brutality and racial inequality. The album dropped four short years before the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.
Police brutality is in the news again, but this time it’s being levied against Occupy Wall Street protestors. The social atmosphere that led to the ’92 riots is different in many ways from our current distraught times, so it only makes sense to update the anthem for the new generation of disenfranchised protestors. Rappers Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Toki Wright, and Jasiri X recently recorded “Film the Police,” a call to arms—er, well, phones—reminding young protestors that police brutality is unacceptable. Twenty-three years of telecommunications technology advances have given ordinary citizens an instrument to document egregious abuses by law enforcement officers: Smartphones. Before I go any further, watch the video below:
The new version borrows many elements from Ice Cube and Co.’s version, borrowing its original beat and rhyme scheme, as well as lyrical themes. When B. Dolan says, “You got a weapon in you pocket whether you know it or not”—referring to a handheld video camera—it echoes N.W.A.’s aggressive, dissenting, we’ve-had-it-up-to-here attitude. Jasiri X raps about how wealth inequality and violence disproportionately affect black Americans, which is the same thing Eazy-E was saying in the late ’80s.
The emcees make clever use of violent language which, in my opinion, works far more constructively than N.W.A.’s pissed-off rhetoric. “Now tell me what you gonna do, next time you see the boys in blue,” rhymes Toki Wright. “You cock your camera back and point and shoot.” Although the lyrics seem to advocate the assassination of police officers, it’s clear that “shooting” is an act of non-violent resistance when juxtaposed with video footage of riot police mowing down protestors with rubber bullets.
I’ll save the larger discussion about hip hop’s de-politicization for another time, but it seems that the genre’s musicians seem to be taking a stronger political stance lately. If I could recommend one recent (and excellent) (and free) politically-driven hip hop album to check out, it would be Immortal Technique’s mixtape The Martyr. It’s, as they say in the industry, quite dope.