Sorry for the recent delays in posting. A lot has happened since, namely the spread of covid-19 and the death of George Floyd. The Black Lives Matters movement has harnessed a powerful energy that is introducing concepts and approaches to police brutality in the US that were previously seen as “radical”. Finally, our nation is talking about the ongoing militarization of the police, their insane budgets, and their continued killing of people (namely Black people). Just to be clear, the authors of this blog stand for and with Black Lives Matter, and other social justice efforts that support marginalized communities.
Music has prepared us for this moment. The notion that the police are dangerous and reckless agents of the state that are not to be trusted has long been rooted in HipHop music. Most people are familiar with the song “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA. When the song came out in the 90s, it was met with a lot of resistance. The song was restricted from the radio, banned in Australia, and the FBI and various local police departments expressed their anger with the song in various ways. But this type of pushback can be often an acknowledgement that you’re on the “right” track. It can raise the voices of the oppressed, in this case a Black community that had been and continues to be ruthlessly under siege by police forces.
Now, in 2020, hip hop has mainstream success and is one of the biggest genres in the industry, with many of the NWA rappers having gone on to build their own successful hip-hop empires. The implication is that hip-hop’s influence extends beyond people directly affected by racism and other topics privileged in hip-hop, like White suburban moms who drive around in the Yukon’s blasting Nelly. It has exposed people who are often blind to these systematic injustices, and normalized certain ideas and phrases.
This is the power and politics of music. The phrase “fuck the police” has been around for 32 years now! The consequential forms of hip hop that continue to name injustices are not often reacted to as harshly as they were in 1988. Further, there is less control (broadly speaking) of what music people listen to with the advent of the internet and streaming platforms. No more DJs with turntables controlled by White corporate media.
Of course, it’s always more complicated than how something can be described. Example: I was at a BLM protest recently and a man in a large pickup truck blasting rap music gave us the finger and mouthed the words “fuck off” to us. But yet, he’s being forced to engage with the discursive framework of Black people to some degree, so maybe that’s still a positive.