It’s been twenty years since the L.A. riots occurred, and yet the events which unfolded that notorious week have not yet faded from memory. In actual fact, the system which birthed the wide spread scenes of civil unrest seems just as ingrained into the fabric of American society as it was then. Culturally, hip-hop still addresses issues of racial inequality and political corruption. Now however, the African American voice is more widely understood by the emerging youth of today. The hip-hop generation has transcended colour, amongst it’s achievements it can boast a far more progressive movement of unity than was ever achieved by political measures such as those carried out by the Obama administration.
Whereas Obama claims to represent black people in America, many feel he has betrayed them by continuing the policies of George Bush. Instead of the socialist he is often depicted as, he has shown to be in the pocket of Wall Street lobbyists. Embedded within hip-hop music is a quality much lacking elsewhere: truth. The reality is the more people see through popular news publications and media spin, the more they will go looking for truth through other sources. In order to understand the systematic oppression which gave root to the riots, you must bypass the media’s attempt at concealment of the truth and receive the other side of the story. This vital counter-narrative was presented to the public by artist’s such as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube in the early 90’s. Of course it is easy to demonise offensive lyrics and paint a picture of ignorant rap stars out to glorify violence and misogyny. Yet a true observer will scratch beneath the surface and find contained within those songs, the context for the racial tensions which threatened to undermine the very safety of all citizens.
The real success of Gangsta Rap is that it took away the power of the politicians to mould the minds of the youth. It became harder to depict the rioters as evil when the symbols of the descruction were also cultural icons, espcially amongst white kids. Everybody wanted to be like Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, and whilst this was the case, teens were reluctant to condemn the acts of looting and violence being conducted in L.A. And make no mistake about it 2Pac was really out there looting, a conversation I had with legendary emcee Kool G Rap confirmed that he met 2Pac during the riots, he even described how hyped up they both were. For those of you that doubt the power these artists had, you only need to see how Obama has alligned himself with hip-hop groups like The Roots. On the Jimmy Fallon show last month he even performed with them in attempt to appeal to the hip-hop generation.
You get the real brutal story of what it’s like to grow up in the most impoverished areas of L.A. through songs like “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” and “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” which featured on Dr. Dre’s album “The Chronic”. A new documentary recently aired on VH1’s “Rock Doc’s” dealt with hip-hop’s close relationship with the culture of resistance that exploded around the time “Gangster Rap” began making serious waves throughout the World. Yet for every positive advancements made by album’s such as Ice Cube “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”, there are some complex negative effects which can even be felt today. The almost cartoonish image of the gangster rapper can become the defining picture of the African American to many uninformed members of society.
It should be made clear that the story told in albums such as “2Pacalypse Now”, although relevant to many, do not represent an entire race. Rather it is a valuable snapshot of the conditions which good men can fall victim to, a trap which some would claim is set up from government level. One strange duality, which cannot be ignored is the corporate backing of Gangster Rap music. This can blur the line between revolutionary lyrics and status quo confortism. The glorification of ignorance without context represents a danger as great as the misinformation propagated through the media. It is almost the ultimate irony that Ice Cube is now a Hollywood actor, appearing in children’s comedies.
But the hunger that fans search for political/revolutionary hip-hop remains stronger than ever. Today, artists like Thurz explore the L.A. Riots in a manner which seeks to explain rather than confuse. He presents a voice which is often lacking from the general analysis fed to the public. His 2011 mixtape, aptly titled “L.A. Riot” was released for free to great critical acclaim. The recent Trayvon Martin case serves as a reminder that progression has stagnated despite claims of a “post racial America”.