Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

“I Gotta Be Able To Counterattack” : Los Angeles Rap and The Riots

“Once we have a knowledge of self as a people then no devil could ever enter our boundaries.”
Aceyalone and Mykah 9 at the Good Life
Photo by B+ from his forthcoming book, Ghost Notes

Thanks to Oliver Wang, Evan Kindley, and B+, my piece on rap on the Los Angeles riots is up today at that fine institution, the Los Angeles Review of Books. Here’s a teaser…

“PROFILING”: IN THE EARLY 1980s, the street definition of the word was something like “looking fresh and clean.” Most often — as in that party song from the Connecticut crew the Skinny Boyz — “profiling” rhymed with “styling.” It celebrated that moment before the first morning bell after summer break when the schoolyard became a fashion runway, the memory of the summer weekends when the boulevards thrummed sensually, streets filling with tricked-out cars, youths spilling off the sidewalks flirting or trying to get their mack on.

But by 1989, N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police” essayed a new definition of “profiling,” one associated with force, authority, the pathologies of the powerful. That shotgun blast of a song captured all manner of shifts that had taken place: from East Coast to West, revelry to rage, abandonment to containment.

L.A. hip hop, like the punk and skateboarding subcultures of the 1970s, had sprouted from the imaginations of forgotten kids in depopulated urban spaces. They built codes, rules, and vocabularies for themselves to compensate for scarcity and lack. Their play was the organized chaos of the unseen and the unheard.

But with the advent of LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ Operation Hammer in 1988 those invisible kids moved into the crosshairs, appearing now as dangerous surplus bodies. “Anti-loitering” was the name of the new discourse. Crenshaw and Westwood Boulevard were shut down. Curfews were imposed. Injunctions were prepared. The CRASH units and battering rams occupied the streets.

By 1991, L.A. rap was all tension and little release. …

Read the whole thing here

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